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"If it's okay," Johnis said.
"Now. But five years will have pa.s.sed."
It was a heady idea, Silvie thought.
"Does it matter if we stay or return?" Karas eyed Darsal.
"Of course it matters. But it is your decision entirely. Wherever you live, you will have challenges, as long as evil remains unbound."
"And what about the Shataiki?" Darsal glanced above her at the gray sky.
"Yes, them. A few dozen escaped, wouldn't you say?"
"Maybe more. But they were males."
"And there are no females." Michal shrugged. "I would worry more about the others."
Karas looked up. "Others?"
A worried look crossed Darsal's face. "You're saying the rumors are true?"
"There's usually at least some truth in a rumor."
"What are you talking about?" Karas demanded.
"The vampires," Darsal said. "Alucard's been a busy beast all of these years."
Silvie listened with interest, but the greater part of her mind was on the forests. The faster she could return, be it five years or five hundred years from now, the better.
Darsal nudged a stone with her foot. "I have to know something."
"Whether or not you were the Dark One," Michal said.
Her eyes met his.
"Johnis was right," the Roush said. "You are both fallen and chosen. As are all of you. And your choices aren't finished. Do you follow?"
"Gone. To save you. But you knew that."
She nodded gently.
"I'm proud of you. Darsal. After falling so hard, you stood. But please, try not to fall again."
"So it was all about this a these books?" Karas asked. "Paradise, the worms, the monastery. Thomas Hunter."
"Yes. And no. Yes, the lost books are now found, and this chapter is over. But as I said, Thomas has only begun to face his challenges in the forests. And here a" Michal glanced at the nearby forest. "Here it's all about the sinner."
The Roush said it with such a mix of pa.s.sion and frustration that Silvie cringed to think what could ruffle such a stoic creature as Michal.
"Now, what will it be? Who's going, who's staying?"
Karas stepped up to Silvie and hugged her tight. "This reality is my home now. I have a world that needs some saving."
She sniffed and hugged Johnis, then Darsal.
"This place holds too many terrible memories for me," Darsal said. She was forgiven and shed saved the day, but she was still wrestling with all of it. "I don't know what I'm going to do back in the forests without Billos, but I can't stay here."
"Then you'll be coming with us," Johnis a.s.sured her with a slight grin. "We'll find a way to put what we now know to use, I'm sure."
Darsal offered a weak smile. "That's what concerns me." They looked at each other in silence for a moment. "There you have it, then." Michal waddled to where the books lay on the gra.s.s. "The books have been recovered, the quest is finished, the mission has been successful. The end." And so it was. Or was it?