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That Which We Are, We Are Forever

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It took Irrylath nearly a decade to realize he had stopped ageing.

Sabr noticed first -- she noticed everything about him, almost obsessively. Sometimes he found her attention suffocating, but mostly he welcomed it. He used her love to bind himself to his life and his land. He used her sensitivity to his slightest quirks to correct his thoughts and actions when he drifted away from compassion and justice. He used their children to remind himself he was human.

Irrylath wondered at first why Sabr had refrained from mentioning his frozen appearance. Then he laughed, bitterly. Of course she had held her tongue. She wanted him normal, living, only marked out by human honors: king, general, hero. Sabr wanted no part of darkness or magic. She abhorred the icarus. She suppressed Oriencor's incestuous son. She denied Aeriel's heart-bound husband.

But time flows only forward. No transformation can be perfectly reversed. No rebirth leaves a man without scars.

Aeriel had given him her heart to make him human. Then she had given him back his own, freed from its leaden prison. She had given him life to fill his empty veins. She had given him hope to water his desiccated soul. She had given him love to light his midnight world.

But she could not take away the years Oriencor had spent shaping his body. She could not take away his memories -- could not erase his body's memory of magic, power, stasis. His body knew the trick of immortality, and somewhere in the final battle, some of the Ancients' magic had seeped from Winterock into him and followed the pattern his soulless years had laid down in his bones.

Irrylath was not ageing. His blood was cooling. Last daymonth, he had found silver in his hair and a black feather in his sheets.

Sabr still said nothing, but she gathered their children close. Now that he knew he was changing, Irrylath realized she had not left them alone with him for over a year. He saw that she no longer smiled with her heart and soul, but only with her teeth.

Their eldest son was seventeen, as old as Irrylath when Aeriel restored him to life. That was old enough to do a man's work, to shoulder a king's burden.

Irrylath left his crown in his empty room and walked into the desert, alone. Either Aeriel and her sword-sister would find him and fix him, or he would force the Pendarlon to slay him before more of Oriencor's poison could return to his veins.

He had died before, years ago. He was not afraid to die again.

He only hoped to see Aeriel once more before he closed his eyes forever.