Russell Madden
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It Mattered
Russell Madden
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Softcover, $24.95
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Hardcover, $34.95
(Preview. Also available in a digital edition, $5.63.)





Russell Madden



Blair stood only five-foot-three but was easily the most dangerous man I had ever met. He seemed determined to get me killed.

We sat in a quiet corner of the Apogee Bar while night crept inexorably towards dawn. The place hummed, crowded with the usual clientle: people like me who can't afford the prices of the taverns in the better parts of Rendik City.

Suddenly Blair's gaze shifted away from my face. His heavy brows drew together over his narrowed, dark brown eyes. A faint smile lifted one corner of his mouth.

An icicle of fear slithered through me. Too many times before I had seen that steel-faced expression along with its incongruous hint of amusement.

Slowly Blair rose to his feet. I choked down the sour taste of bile and whiskey and twisted in my chair.

Blair's strong grip clamped down on my shoulder. "Sit. I can handle this alone."

Blearily I looked up into Blair's eyes. "Do you have to?"

Again came that ghost of a smile. "Don't worry. I just saw someone I think I don't like. I want to make sure."

I knew he lied. I opened my mouth to try once more. Blair's raised brow warned me to hold my peace. Reluctantly, I nodded.

"Pay the waiter," he said. "I'll be right back."

The kid who had brought our drinks glanced from me to Blair then back again. "Uh, that'll be ten credits, please."

I fumbled for my pouch. "Sure." From a corner of one eye, I watched Blair approach three men sitting at a booth across the room from us. They looked dangerous: sullen, dirty, and without a trace of mercy or understanding. They exemplified the kind of men Blair sought.

"He's not going to cause any trouble, is he?" the waiter asked uneasily. "We've had Security down here twice already this week. Once more and they'll close us down for a month."

"Don't worry about it," I said with false confidence. I flipped a twenty-credit note down on his tray. "Keep the change."

I gulped at my drink and scooched my chair around for a better view. Despite the alcohol in my system, my hands trembled. The scenario always played the same. Even during my hitch in the Silence Wars, I never really got over the queasy stomach and... Damn! My left eyelid began to twitch.

I downed the rest of the whiskey. Blair's reassurances -- his command -- meant nothing. No matter how crazy a fix he got himself into, I would have to wade in. After all, he was Blair.

As he talked, grinning, Blair leaned forward and rested his thick palms on the edge of the strangers' table. All three men stared at him in disbelief. Their expressions quickly melted into angry masks. I strained to hear what Blair said. I found it was impossible to penetrate the barroom babble. But then, the exact words did not matter.

Roaring, the man to Blair's right shot to his feet. With one large, callused hand he reached into his frayed, orange shirt.

"Damn!" I scrambled up and nearly tripped over my own chair. Blair tended to wait until my coordination had deteriorated to its worst. Being beaten up, though, was the least of my concerns.

Theoretically, energy and projectile weapons are outlawed in Rendik City proper. Unfortunately, those people who frequent my neighborhood are less concerned with theory than with practical results. Usually the "undesirables" whom Blair approached remained circumspect in displaying any heavy-duty hardware. Security did little beyond impose a few days in detention for normal bar fighting. A flagrant display of weaponry, however, would force them to more severe measures. The man Blair had chosen to test his mettle against apparently cared little about such consequences. The knife Blair kept strapped to his leg would be a poor defense against the needler I felt certain would soon be pointed at his chest.

The next few seconds flowed by in viscous slow-motion. The miscreant whose trigger Blair had pulled bulked almost as big as me. Alone -- and with both of us unarmed -- I might, even drunk, have been able to handle him. With the others rising to join in the fracas, however, I knew Blair and I would be lucky to get out of this one alive.

I blundered forward, striving to suppress thoughts clamoring for attention. Shouts of irritation and surprise bubbled around me. I let out a bellow.Blair never flinched. His eyes stayed rivetted on his nearest opponent.

In a blur, Blair's knife appeared in his left hand. The man closest to me hesitated.

Blair swung backhanded at Mister Cautious. The man backpedalled into me. With a heavy thud, we both went down. The wind fled from me. Frantically I tried to shove the meat off my chest. As best I could, I kept Blair in my line of sight.

The fight ended in a matter of seconds.

I was correct about the needler. The man swung it up to point at Blair's heart. Its blunt tip glimmered in the colored lights of the bar. Without body armor, my friend could never escape death from those nasty projectiles. Yet the smile on Blair's full lips stretched even wider. Now that we had mustered out of the war, only that adrenaline rush -- that tension between potential conquest and potential death -- kept him going.

Blair's knife arced towards the other man's throat. I knew it would never reach its target in time.

Then something happened I will never forget.

The savage grin on the other man's face froze. Invisible hands ripped the needler from his fingers and tossed it to the floor. Bouncing, it skittered across the rough, wooden surface and came to rest near my arm. I didn't grab it, though. I lay there too stunned to move.

I had seen the weapon yanked away. I had seen it fly through the hazy air of the bar. I could feel its cool grip as finally I drew it towards me.

Yet no one stood nearby who could have done it. That could only mean one thing.

Unsteadily I levered myself to my feet. Awkwardly, his knife still poised for the kill, Blair stared at the needler in my hand. His gaze slid in reluctant jerks back towards the man he had accosted. Past him. Towards the shadows.

I saw the shape the same time as Blair. He staggered slightly; did not seem to notice as his left arm dropped limply towards his side; as the blade slipped from his fingers to clatter on the floor.

The misshapen creature who had been hiding in the shadows drifted forward. All noise in the bar ceased.

A Sandalian.

I felt my intestines turn liquid.

In the Silence Wars, I had, of course, seen neuter Sandalians. Without them, there would be no Silence Teams, no Transformations, no war.

This was no neuter.

No sexed Sandalian had been seen on a human or Anjehnian world since...since...since I did not know when.

No one moved. As the Sandalian approached, the man whose needler had so unexpectedly mutinied turned and bolted for the door.

A broad swath of light bisected the alien shape of the intruder. How he (assuming it was a "he") had managed to enter the Apogee -- let alone Rendik City -- without his arrival being blared in the headlines was beyond me. Yet he had.

The being's four ropy, upper limbs waved in a quiet pattern above its -- his -- yellow, fleshy body. Stopping inches from Blair, his mudpie features remained in the shadows.

The Sandalian lifted his pliant arms towards Blair's face. I inhaled a sharp breath. As those gray-black appendages molded themselves to his flesh, the former Silence Team member -- my friend -- stiffened. As though one, alien and soldier remained facing each other for long seconds. Neither least not in words I could hear.

When at last the Sandalian broke contact, a tension seemed to drain from the bar. Only then did I realize I had been holding my breath. The Sandalian turned his fathomless eyes in my direction. My heart stuttered in my chest.

"Take your friend home," he said. His voice rattled with age and a hint of sadness. Saying nothing more, he turned and glided out of the bar and into the night.

That seemed Blair's cue. Bonelessly he collapsed.


Pausing only long enough to toss the needler at the bartender, I scrambled towards my friend. Gingerly I took him into my arms and turned him to face me.

A cold shock stabbed into me. Blair's cheeks glistened wetly. His reddened eyes looked blankly into mine. He was crying. The iron man who had seen his Teammates destroyed by war and yet who had never faltered was crying.

Uncertainly I swallowed. I felt foolish. Uncomfortable. Afraid.

"Don't worry, Blair," I whispered inanely. "It'll be O.K." For a moment I hesitated. Then I wrapped my arms around him. Hugged him. Held him next to me and stroked his hair.

I did as the Sandalian asked. I gathered Blair and his knife together and took them home.

We said little. The encounter had been too strange, too unusual. Perhaps in the morning, I thought. Perhaps then Blair would be ready to tell me what had happened.

Blair went to his room and to bed. As for me... The alcohol had been burned from my blood. I felt tired -- exhausted -- but unable to go to sleep. I poured a glass of wine and collapsed into a chair. I had a lot to think about.

My body must have been smarter than I. I awoke the next morning with the sun in my eyes and a wine stain on my pants.

"Damn it," I muttered. My head throbbed and my stomach churned. Those came almost as welcome distractions from my thoughts.

I stood unsteadily in the kitchen rubbing at the red splotch on my pants with a wet rag when Blair eased into the room. Reflexively, my head swiveled towards him. He paused in the doorway.

I looked away and rubbed more vigorously at the spot. A long moment of silence passed. Finally I straightened and tossed the cloth into the sink.

"Guess it's not going to come out."

Blair nodded. Except for a slight tension around his eyes, he appeared as he always did. His blue and white outfit echoed the Federation uniforms we had once both worn. His hair was neatly combed. The knife he had won on Regan's World was strapped to his leg. Nothing appeared to be out of the least on the outside.

My gaze flickered across his face. Abruptly I waved towards the table.

"Have a seat. I'll fix us something to eat."


Breakfast did not deviate from the usual. Eggs. Something that resembled meat. Toast. Juice.


I chewed on the dry bread. It tasted awful. Stale. Or maybe I just tasted the whiskey from last night. Or something.

The last of my juice washed the lump down. I stared at my fingers wrapped around the empty glass. They trembled from more than a hangover. I felt sick; like I wanted -- needed -- to throw up. I knew, however, that my stomach's turmoil had nothing to do with anything I had ingested. I opened my mouth to speak. Glancing up at Blair, I closed it mine. Quickly he looked away.

Embarrassed, I stood. "I'll...clear away the table," I said hastily.

My arms were buried in soapy water when I heard the scrape of Blair's chair. My heart began to beat with trip-hammer intensity. He had nearly made it to the door when I spoke.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I turned slowly.

Blair stood in the entranceway. For a moment he said nothing. "You mean the Sandalian," he said at last.

I nodded and wiped my hands on a towel.

"If you want to, that is," I said hastily.

Seconds passed. "They want me back."

My brows knitted. "'They'?" And then it hit me. "You mean the Silence Corps wants you to come back?" I took a step towards Blair. A grin wreathed my face. "That's great! That'll give you a chance to --"

I stopped short. No answering joy shone in Blair's expression. It held only the same dispassionate blankness I had seen too often for too many years; the iciness which these days gave way to fire only when he faced the possibility of combat with the nameless enemies he created in bars.

His voice came low and even. "When those Consortium commandos killed my Teammates on Markon Five, I thought I'd never mesh with anyone again. They told me it was impossible; that Teammates were attuned to each other and could never link with anyone else. I didn't want to believe them, but I knew they were right. I've tried to live with that knowledge ever since." He paused. I held my breath. His lips tightened. "Now suddenly this Sandalian shows up and tells me that the Silence Corps wants me back. That they 'need' me again. That they didn't tell me everything. That --" Blair's eyes glistened in the light of the rising sun. Silence stretched until finally the line of his mouth hardened. "Well, I won't let them use me again," he said quietly. "I gave them everything I had, everything I could, and in the end they took away all that I was. I won't give them another chance at me, Davik. I won't let them decide my future. That's one decision I reserve for myself."

"Blair, I --"

"No!" His hand slashed the air. He spun away before I could say more. With a brisk stride he disappeared around a corner. A second later I heard the front door slam.

For a space of time, I stared after him. Then I sagged into a chair and buried my face in my hands.

How long, I wondered. How long was he going to torture himself?

He had been away on R & R with me when the commandos struck. It was not his fault he had not died with the Anjehnian woman and the Sandalian neuter who comprised his Team; the two beings whose minds he had shared so intimately during the performance of his duty.

I leaned back and rested my head against the grease-coated wall.

Duty. For Blair that seemed to explain it all. The Federation had taken him away from the command of his troops when they'd discovered his low-level telekinetic power. He had not wanted to join a Silence Team. He had wanted only to remain with his men; to lead them against the Consortium troops who sought to capture the worlds the Federation had spent so many lives in taming.

He had gone anyway. It was his duty. Even when most of his former comrades began to avoid him, to hate and despise him for being one of those who kept the Silence Wars churning, it remained his duty to obey.

To silence the enemy...silently. The motto and method of the Silence Teams seemed ready-made for Blair. He never complained. He knew as well as anyone that without the combined telekinetic talents of selected humans and feline Anjehnians -- boosted and directed by the neuters of the three-sexed Sandalian species -- there would be nothing capable of penetrating the force shields invented on Terra to end all wars. The subsequent discovery which had led to the formation of the Silence Teams had dimmed that bright promise. War became more difficult but remained all too possible. After Silence Teams like Blair's disabled the force shield generators protecting strategic sites, the regular troops moved in and did the dirty, slogging work they had always been expected to do. It was not Blair's fault he had been taken from those troops; that he had been thrust into a role of prominence and preference; that without him and others like him, there would be no war.

No. None of it was his fault. But that, Blair would never believe or accept.

I rose and headed for my room. Perhaps, I thought, a shower and clean clothes would make me feel better.

When I came downstairs after half an hour, Blair still had not returned. I worried about what he might be doing. I did not want to see him hurt, but if courting danger was how he gave himself permission to live, I refused to desert him. He had come to me. Me. No one else. That meant a lot. He had offered me friendship when others had ignored me. I owed him more than simple loyalty.

Twilight had spread its fingers across the sky before I heard the door open and then ease shut. I returned my attention to the book on my lap and waited.

I felt his presence more than heard it.

"Hi, Davik."

I looked up and smiled. "Hi, Blair."

Blair's tongue slid across his lower lip. "I was wondering if you'd like to...go out with me tonight."

I suppressed a sigh. Resolutely, I closed the novel and stood.

"Sure," I said with forced enthusiasm. "Let me get my jacket."

As I passed Blair, I could smell the whiskey on his breath. I said nothing, though, as I slipped on my coat and followed him outside.

The evening air enveloped us in its coolness. A light breeze played across my hair.

"Where to?" I asked.

Blair's eyes slid in my direction. "I thought we'd try the north end. We've never been there before."

I started to protest. A night's drinking up there would cost the equivalent of a month in a place like the Apogee.

Blair stilled me with a raised hand. "My treat."

Even though I preferred to pay my own way, I let it slide. With the pension he had taken from the Silence Corps, Blair could afford to go anywhere he wanted. It was my poor resources which had kept us from visiting the north area bars. Perhaps, I thought, this was Blair's method of making amends for storming away.

Ten minutes on the rail took us to a world as foreign to me as any I had visited in a starship. Unlike the brooding, narrow streets and dimly lit establishments so familiar from my past, the richer sector of Rendik City glistened like a multicolored jewel. The broad thoroughfares rang with a brand of carefree laughter little heard near my home. I felt uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. The brightness in Blair's eyes as he steered me through the jostling crowds only strengthened my sense of being where I did not belong.

Still, I told myself, if Blair wanted to be here, I would do my best to enjoy it.

The Kendrik Connection demanded five credits a head just to enter. Blair gave the attendant twenty. Inside swirled loud music, young faces, and a myriad of shifting lights playing across the polished granite floor.

We shoved our way past people not even half our age. I shouted at Blair above the noise.

"Are you sure you want to be here?"

He nodded and directed me towards an empty table. A waiter promptly took our orders and brought us our drinks. For the price Blair paid, though, speedy service was the least he deserved.

Music heavy with bass and electronic overlay blasted from speakers situated around the bar. I could feel it pounding its way into my skull. In time with its beat, the rainbow beams of light swept over the constantly moving bodies.

I looked at Blair. He appeared oblivious to the assault upon our senses. As the drinks continued to come, I realized it was no accident he had brought us here. Conversation proved nearly impossible.

Blair's expression never changed. His gaze drifted around the bar, looking for something or, rather, someone. With a sinking feeling, I mentally prepared myself for the confrontation which would allow him to finish what had gone undone the night before.

Minutes passed. I continued to scrutinize the patrons of the bar and Blair's questing look. The more I drank, the more I noticed a different element lurking in his expression. Or perhaps it was simply an aspect I had never before allowed myself to see...or to remember.

I'm not sure exactly what triggered it. Perhaps my subconscious finally finished processing the evidence that had openly existed for so long; the facts that had been there for anyone with eyes to see. Perhaps the break in the routine which had overtaken us at the Apogee Bar was responsible. Perhap the booze I drank at last melted away the barriers I had erected to keep myself from recognizing the truth, to keep me from acknowledging the evasions I had wallowed in. Whatever the explanation, I realized with a sickening, sudden clarity precisely why Blair had come to Rendik City -- and to me. During all the time we had been together, I had been wrong, disastrously wrong.

The Sandalian had stirred up memories in Blair already too sharp for him to hold. My friend had not told me why the Federation had risked sending a sexed Sandalian to find him. It had to be important, though. Male and female Sandalians rarely met with humans and Anjehnians. The neuters who formed the link in the reproduction of their species as well as the link which made Silence Teams possible acted almost exclusively as liaisons in any dealings necessary between Sandalians and other peoples. The strong telekinetic ability of sexed Sandalians was legend. I had, however, never heard of one making a telepathic connection with any other than one of his or her own kind. Apparently neither had Blair.

My sixth glass of whiskey slid smoothly down my throat. I could barely taste it. Part of me realized I was wasted. Another part of me no longer cared.

I motioned towards a waiter then reached over and grabbed Blair's arm.

He looked surprised at my touch, but I did not let go.

"I know what you're up to, Blair," I shouted. I had been a fool for too long.

"You're drunk," he said matter-of-factly.

I nodded and felt the slow-motion roll of my head which confirmed his assessment.

"That doesn't matter," I said. The waiter brought my drink. Annoyed, I released Blair's sleeve. Paying the man, Blair shoved the glass over to me.

"Here. Drink this," he said. "You'll feel better."

I shook my head and hiccupped. "It won't help," I yelled and drank half of it.

Blair turned away and resumed his scanning.

I watched him for a moment. Angrily, I reached over, snatched the front of his shirt, and pulled him towards me.

He rose half out of his chair before I realized what was happening. I had never seen that black glare of his directed at me. I was too far gone, though, for it to register as anything more than an abstract fact.

Slowly the fury faded from Blair's eyes. He resumed his seat and studied me.

I grinned. "Surprised?" I took another sip of whiskey then leaned forward. "Well, so am I." I laughed.

"I better take you home."

"No!" I shook off Blair's hand and tilted back in my chair. With slow dignity, I straightened my jacket then drank some more. "You know. You're one hell of a friend." I looked away. "You don't even trust me. Won't even tell me the truth about what's going on." I turned back. Unexpectedly, Blair still sat there, watching me.

"I told you. The Sandalian was sent to bring me back. I won't go."

I pounded the table with a fist. "But you won't tell me why! What's so special that they send a Sandalian to fetch you? And why won't you go?" But I knew I was still avoiding the real issue, still trying to evade saying what I knew had to be said. "It'd be the best thing for you. Better than staying here feeling sorry for yourself. Better than waiting around until you find someone to kill you since you won't kill yourself."

Blair's fist connected with my face. My head rocked back from the force of the blow. As a measure of my condition, I felt little pain. The next thing I knew, blood dripped down my front. I no longer cared. I had spoken the unspeakable, and the relief washing through me felt tremendously liberating.

I stared at Blair. Reluctantly, it seemed, his fists opened. "Feel better?" I grinned and held my handkerchief to my nose. "You've been living on borrowed time, Blair. You're not hiding here with me because the Silence Corps lied to you. And it's not because they somehow don't deserve you anymore." My eyes narrowed. "You're afraid, my friend. Afraid of the closeness which the Sandalian showed you was still possible to attain. Afraid even of the closeness you might find with a friend. So what if the Corps told you you'd never mesh again? They were wrong. And they need you."

"They'll survive without me."

"Ah!" I nodded. "I see. Your duty to them has ended. Is that right?"

He said nothing, but his dark eyes never left mine.

"And along with that, so has your duty to yourself, right?"

"Be careful, Davik. I know you're drunk, but even that and friendship will only stretch so far."

I snorted. "Friendship. Some friend I've been. Watching you slowly committing suicide before my eyes. Letting you. Helping you. And you hanging around only as long as I play by your rules.

"That needler in the Apogee should have given you the grave your honor and your pride -- or is it your terror? -- won't permit you to find at your own hand. Oh, I'm so sorry you were disappointed once again."

Blair's strong fingers curled around his glass. "I've never forced you to do anything," he said tightly.

I smiled lopsidedly. "No. I suppose not." I blinked. Darkness tinged the edge of my vision. I ignored it as best I could and drank the rest of the whiskey. I lowered the glass as a new thought percolated through the alcoholic haze. "Of course! That's why you came here to me. Because I'm a 'safe' friend. Someone who you knew would never question what you did. Somebody who'd be so grateful just to have the mighty warrior, Blair, condescend to his level that he'd never protest, never tell you just how big an ass you really are."

"That's enough, Davik!"

"You're damned right it is!" I shouted. With difficulty, I weaved to my feet. "If it's death you find so appealing, my friend, let me show you how it's really done. Let me show you how to end the agony once and for all."

Blair lunged for me. He missed.

Stumbling, I staggered away into the crowd. I had trouble seeing. Soon, I told myself, that would no longer matter.

I peered around and found the one I wanted. I grabbed the woman he was talking to and kissed her hard on the lips. I tried to swerve out of the way of his fist and failed. Something cracked against my jaw. Reeling, I grabbed at the bar for support.

My fingers wrapped around a bottle. The man who had hit me held his hand and grimaced. I tried to grin. Blackness surged over me and then receded. I don't remember breaking the bottle, but the next thing I knew, I was pointing its jagged remains at my foe. Unfortunately, he had not come to the bar alone.

Steel blades flashed in the revolving lights. The three men holding them advanced towards me.

Unsteadily I waved my weapon. My throat felt dry and raw, but I had said all I meant to say.

Only bits and pieces of the scene remained in focus. A blue shape suddenly blurred past me. A long blade lifted into the air. Startled expressions spread on young faces. A shower of credit notes flew in their direction. Strong hands gripped my arms. Crowds streamed past me...or was it me past them? Abruptly I found myself in open spaces and fresh air.

A familiar voice spoke into my ear. "You're crazy."

I nodded dully. I felt too sick to argue. "But I care," I mumbled. "I just want you to care, too." Then I was busy being sick.

The next thing I remember was waking up in my own bed and dragging myself to the bathroom to try to be sick again. I don't know if I succeeded or not.

Somehow the rest of the night and the next day passed. Night deepened again before a semblance of normality returned.

Blair waited for me downstairs. His pack lay next to him on the couch. I felt a cold lump congeal in my belly.

"You look terrible," he said.

I nodded. "You're...leaving?" I croaked out.

Blair stood and swung his pack over his shoulder. "I thought that would be best. I didn't want to go without saying goodbye, though."

I tasted the cotton in my mouth and nodded again. "Thanks." The sinking feeling in my gut felt as though it would never reach bottom.

Shakily, I extended a hand. Blair took it.

"Thanks for everything," he said. "I appreciated it."


Why now? I thought. Why does he have to leave now when I feel barely alive?

Blair headed for the door. I watched him open it and start to leave.


He paused and looked back at me. He nodded slowly then disappeared into the darkness.

Tears filled my eyes. I let them come. There was no one to see them but me.

With an effort, I shuffled to the kitchen. I poured myself a tall glass of water, drained it and then refilled it. Maneuvering towards the table, I plopped down onto one of the fraying chairs. With a bloody sleeve, I wiped at my eyes.

I drew a shuddery breath.

I had failed. He was going elsewhere to die. Of that I remained certain. Though I'd thought I had reached him, I had broken the unspoken pact between us, and he had departed. He had been betrayed again by someone he had trusted. But did my actions really constitute a betrayal?

As that thought reverberated through my brain, I saw the small recorder lying on the table.

I put my glass down. Gingerly I reached over and pressed the "on" button. Blair's voice emerged from the tiny speaker.

"Davik," it said. "I can't seem to do this in person, so this will have to suffice. I don't know if I'll ever see you again. If I don't, I wanted to thank you for being there when I needed you. And I wanted to say I'm sorry. It hasn't been easy for me to give since...since I lost my Team. I know I took a lot from you and didn't give much in return, but I did the best I could. It's hard. I think, though, that maybe you understand.

"I thought a lot about what you said. Perhaps you're right. I don't know. I'll have to think about it some more. But maybe I'll at least give the Corps another try. There's always time for another way out if this doesn't work.

"I guess there's something new happening in the war. A renegade Team member. Someone like me who lost his Teammates but who's somehow still able to use his talent alone. Whatever he's doing out there, he's got both the Federation and the Consortium running scared. There's even talk of a truce until they can bring this guy under control. I don't know. Maybe I can help. At least I know what he's feeling. The pain. The emptiness. The...

"Well. I guess that's about all I can say. One thing more, though, Davik. I'm more frightened of trying again, of...of finding what you said, than I ever was of combat. I just wanted you to know that this time I'm not doing it from a sense of duty. I'm doing it by choice. My choice. And I have you to thank for that."

With a faint click, the voice ended.

I was crying again. This time, however, no sadness, no depression tainted that display. My friend had rejoined the living. I wanted to celebrate.

I wrote Blair a few times. We heard only rumors about an enemy named Gislain, but I knew that if Blair stalked his trail, he had better watch out.

Blair never answered any of my letters. But then the Corps never returned them, either. I quit trying after awhile. As long as he's found a place to belong despite the pain of the past, I'm happy. I'll be here, though, waiting, if he ever decides he needs me again.


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