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"Darling, everything's on fire"

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I heard the roar from someplace far off, as though some star had exploded in a different universe. I closed my eyes, standing there on the bluff, trying to think above the cry of the wind. I turned my thoughts from the coldness, from the crimson that crept beneath my eyelids. With a shiver I tilted my head back, and opened my eyes at last to see the stars as they through the smoke all around. It was finished, at last. After four years of struggling, my eyes always set on the end, on hope, like a star which I fixed my heart upon, this battle that had torn my homeland apart had at last drawn to a close. What did I have left? Nothing. My hands, which had been scratched and injured by the heat of the fires all around, by the shard of glass I had landed on earlier, clenched upon the air. I held the mereness of that element which I breathed. I would go on breathing, till I died due to age.

There came a voice behind me, almost one of the breezes that drifted about like ghouls in the stillness of the dusk and smoke.

"Millicent! I never wanted any of this to happen. I promise . . . I will rebuild your home again, again!"

I turned around, and there in the darkness stood Archie, bent with the pain of his wound. But he was here! Alive! How could it be, when Francis Pike had told me that Archie was lost to me? I blinked, trying to take in this phenomenon. Was I gazing upon his ghost?

"Milly!" came Archie's whisper, as he held out bandages to me which were his hands.

"I can't be you . . . are you a demon?" I breathed, wondering. I dared not step closer. I dared not seek his eyes, lest I see the hollowness of death in them. Then this would all be for naught, for naught . . . I was weary of every reality emerging as an illusion, which might turn into mist.

"No, it is me, darling . . . it's me." Archie took another step closer, his hands shaking as they went around me, drawing me to him. "I'm no demon . . . I would never care to become one in your eyes."

"Never," I murmured, somehow unable to stand as I crumpled in his embrace, trying my best to think, to reason, or to say something more than the phrases of incredulity I managed to utter.



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