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The Path They Travel

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Sabin’s eyes opened slowly, rimed with viscous gunk from too heavy a sleep, and he blinked hard and swiped them with a rough hand, shaking away the goo and the dreams with little compunction for where either fell. Gau was already awake, having taken the last watch, and was busy giving himself a good scratching; Sabin vowed to himself yet again that he was getting that boy a proper bath as soon as they got to a place where it was possible to do so. The rushing, chill waters of the Serpent Trench were no substitute for soap and scrubbing.

Cyan slept still, tossing and turning in his restless slumber. Sabin pretended not to notice his mumblings. The man’s grief had been repressed enough in his waking hours. Let him find what comfort he could in dreams. The Phantom Train had left scars on them all, scars Sabin couldn’t so easily suplex away.

Sabin’s own dreams had been busy since then as well. He had been visited by the dead all too many times, his father giving him advice ranging from the nonsensical – “Don’t forget, boy, the monsters won’t attack you as long as you brush your teeth” – to the mundanely practical – “Don’t forget to store your rations where the monsters won’t get them, son, you don’t want night visitors.” He preferred the advice, overall, to the memories of his father’s last days. He wondered if Cyan would say the same. His dream last night… well. He hoped Cyan’s were better.

He sat up and stretched hard, the gloom of the cave around them not enhanced by the pallid, dying glow of the campfire, still barely lit after all too short a rest. They were lucky to have found a cave so deep underwater that allowed them to have a fire at all, but there was a draft, air from somewhere. The smell of it was a welcome reprieve from the damp must of the dripping caves or the sparking ozone from the diving helmet while it was in use.

Sabin pulled out rations - dried meat from Mobliz, the smell of which made Gau drool but of which Sabin couldn’t say he was overly fond, and the very last of his hoarded tea, his favorite. His unquiet night begged for creature comforts. Gau helpfully restoked the fire with damp wood. It was a good thing there was a draft; the wood smoked terribly but the breeze carried the smoke away with only a little residual haze left. Sabin, thus forewarned, suppressed a quick cough. Cyan was not so lucky and woke with a gasp and a choking breath, his cry of fear quickly silenced when he realized where he was.

“Sir Sabin, I—” he sat up, his unbound hair sliding messily over his face. “Didst thou—?”

Sabin kept his movements brief and simple, going through the ritual of tea-making. “The fire smoked when Gau put wood on it,” he said. “You all right?”

“…Yes. I am as well as can be expected.” Cyan gave himself a shake, looking almost like Gau for a moment as he gathered himself, and slid out of his bedroll. “Shall we be onward? We have other monsters to slay than these watery fiends.”

Gau gave Cyan an offended look. “This kind monsters only want eat,” he said with odd dignity. “Don’t want…” he pointed at Cyan, jabbing a finger into Cyan’s unarmored chest “…that. The inside that not food.”

Cyan’s face went blank, and he turned away. “Thou knowest not of what thou speaketh.”

Gau shrugged, his pique gone as soon as it had come. “Know monsters. Know other things too.” He hopped in place for a moment, and said, “Me go look around. Have food when come back!”

Sabin waved him away. “Yeah, yeah, kid, go check it out but don’t go too far.” He clanged a hand on the diving helmet. “This thing only protects us as long as we’re all touching it, remember.”

Gau nodded, a sharp acknowledgment of received words, and scampered down the nearest corridor, calling out nonsense words for the sheer joy of the echo. Sabin waited until the clamor died a little, then sat next to Cyan, handing him a cup of his tea. “You…wanna talk about it?”

Cyan snorted out a breath and sat the cup down beside him with gentle hands. “They were only dreams and gone upon waking.”

Sabin ducked his head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “You said their names in your sleep. They were your family and they were visiting you. In Figaro, we consider that a good omen.”

“In Doma…” the pain nearly took his breath away, but he continued. “In Doma, we believe that as well. But those fragments were not my family.” Cyan took a sip of tea, his hand shaking only a little. “They were ghosts, memories, but…” he stopped. He did not say, “…but I cannot bear for memories to be all that remains of them.” Sabin heard it anyway.

“I’ve been there,” he said, his voice soft, barely hearable over the distant rushing water of the Trench. “I’m here for you if you need a friend.” He put a hand on Cyan’s shoulder. The knight stiffened, not quite shrugging it off but not accepting the proffered comfort either.

“Thou hast not a son, nor yet a wife, Sir Sabin. Thou art yet young. It is kind of thee to attempt solace, but I… I could not impose my sorrow upon thee when thou couldst hardly be expected to understand it.” He gathered in his hair and began to draw it back into its customary queue, drawing away from the warmth Sabin offered.

“I lost my dad to the Empire’s poisoners when I was the kid you think I am,” Sabin blurted out. “I had to grow up quick and it wasn’t easy, but I found Master Duncan and he saved me. I’m not my Master, no way am I as wise as he is… well. Was, but guess what. You found me, and I guess that makes it my turn.”

Cyan’s hands stilled on his hair, his head bent low. “I needeth not saving. I need justice and vengeance, for my family and for Doma. Mayhap we shall find some for your father as well.” He finished binding his hair back and sat up, his back ramrod-straight and his face and body tense and coiled. “I shall meditate on this until Sir Gau returns, and then we must away.” His eyes slid closed, but his tension did not ease.

Sabin mirrored his pose, falling into the habits his master had instilled in him long ago. “I’ll help you beat down any Imperial goon who stands in the way of justice and I’ll make it look easy, but a need for vengeance won’t get you anywhere but a trip back to the train, and this time you’ll actually find out where it goes. I learned that a long time ago. Meditate on that...and drink your tea.” He closed his eyes too, falling instantly into breath patterns he’d learned long ago, body relaxing into practiced serenity.

Cyan sat for a moment, but his mind refused to clear. He longed to rebut Sabin’s words, but the problem was that Sabin was likely right. Maybe Cyan should have stayed on the train with his wife and his son, his king and his comrades, gone to the other side already, but goddesses knew he still wanted, nay, needed things here. He needed the closure that only living could bring him or his rest would be as unquiet as his wife and son’s. Doma, or what remained of it, needed him to be its hands and eyes in the world.

He took a sip of the tea. It was excellent, brewed just to the perfect temperature and the leaves only tasting a little of their long storage. He finished it, mindfully considering each sip, and stood up at last. Meditation via tea: this wandering man was wiser than he’d given himself credit for. His hands no longer shook, for now, and his insides that weren’t food, as Sir Gau had so oddly put it, were the tiniest bit warm for the first time since he’d left Them on the train.

The boy came scampering back and howled in glee to see him standing, putting on the last of the complicated, old-fashioned, honorable armor of a Knight of Doma. “Mr. Thou! We go?” he bawled in Sabin’s ear.

Sabin flinched, just a little, and he opened an eye. “Kid, I told you before, he’s Mr. Thou. Let’s ask him.” He met Cyan’s eyes, clear blue to sharp black. “We walking the same path for now?”

“We not walk! We swim!” Gau grabbed the diving helmet, tossing it high in the air, the brilliant otherworldly gleam of it the brightest thing in the cavern’s gloom. Cyan followed it with his eyes and caught it before Gau could, offering it to Sabin.

“I needeth not saving.”

“Yeah, that was rude of me.” Sabin grinned, not taking the helmet. “Master Duncan’s wife would have thumped me upside the head for that one; she always said I was the ‘least tactful lump of a prince’ she’d ever met. I asked her once how many other princes she’d met, and I got a thump for that one too.”

Cyan laughed, a brief guffaw that took him a little by surprise. He hadn’t thought it was possible to laugh, hadn’t wanted it to be, in a way, but there it was, out in the world and no retrieving it.

“Well. I hath not Master Duncan’s wife’s way with words, but mayhap I shall give thee a thump or two in her place as we go, prince or not.” He lowered the helmet, clonking it gently on Sabin’s head. “There, for thy rudeness.” He offered his other hand to Sabin, pulling him up from his seat. “And in thanks for the tea, excellent blend that it was.”

Sabin chuckled. “That’s hers, too.”

“Then allow me to give thee thanks for the offer of friendship and return it. We, err, swim together. Until the true monsters are brought to justice.”

“Yeah. Good to have you with us. And you too, kid, come here…” Sabin grabbed Gau and tousled his hair roughly, the boy yipping with laughter and protests as he squirmed. Cyan watched and saw Owain, for a moment, tussling with his friends. His son lived here, for a moment, embodied in a grimy, feral child and an overgrown boy with a bear’s physique.

“Come, boys, we must be off,” he said after a moment, allowing the specter of Owain to fade and reality to return. He’d see him again, and Elayne too, in fragments and flashes. If memories and dreams of them were all that was to remain, best to allow only the fine and kind memories to be their legacy, and he would take on the burden of violence in justice’s name to see the dream of Doma, at least, revived.