Today we said our goodbyes.
When I set out on this journey, I had a huge group of friends backing my ludicrous plan. Friends, colleagues, associates... whatever the hell you'd call Grylock... they all wanted me to succeed. So they helped. It's because of all of them that I've gotten this far.
We escaped the Non. We watched my hometown get swallowed. We blasted past the Imperium's best and brightest. We escaped horrifying monsters, bounty hunters, soldiers, dragons, and illusions. Fuck me, we managed to escape the dungeons of Rodentia. That is a feat virtually no one can claim. (A sloth may have helped.)
We did all this together. So it breaks my heart to have to leave a bunch of my comrades behind for the final leg of the journey.
We did not have a huge, harrowing farewell party. I considered it, but I figured the kind of goodbyes people wanted to say were better left to private moments. Family shit, you know? So we committed three hours to tender moments.
Grylock said goodbye to his boozing buddies with a few final drinks. I'm sure he managed to toast Ed in the process.
Logan, Jeffrey, and Celine all said goodbye to Daena. She's stuck with the Dauphine, as we couldn't possibly transport her tree through the desert. I can't imagine how tearful that parting must've been - three-quarters leaving, one left behind.
Traveller said goodbye to his 'brozer'. I begged Antonio to remain behind and defend everyone. I asked Traveller to do this, as well, but... he's insisted on accompanying me. Can't really tell him what to do. At the very least he's leaving his kitten behind, which I think is wise.
Traveller also said goodbye to Plato. And to his rat. I don't know why, since both of them are coming with us. Weird dude is weird.
Nagi said goodbye to... something. She raised a glass of wine to the eastern sky when she thought no one was looking.
I said goodbye to my wife and my son. Officially they're needed here, to repair the Dauphine. Unofficially...
"Bye, dad. Be careful." Fynn squeezed me tight in a strong hug, lifting me a few inches off the floor. I don't think he even noticed. "I... I love you. I'll take care of mom."
"I know, kid." I patted his arm when he let me go. "Gimme a sec with her, wouldya? I have some adult stuff to talk about."
Fynn nodded, kissed me on the forehead, and left. He's so mature for his age.
Taking Libby by the hand, I led her to the bed of our cabin. She sat down beside me, quiet and solemn. For a few minutes we held hands in silence, looking through the porthole at the setting sun. It hurt my eyes, but I looked anyway. It seemed a good way to prolong a bittersweet moment.
I sat upright, surprisingly tense. "Y... yes?"
"Say what you have to say." Libby patted my hand. "I'm listening."
I let out my breath, having not realized I'd tucked it deep into my lungs. The first few words I said were whistled. "IIIIII... um... well, you see..."
Her fingers tightened on mine. Her grip was not uncomfortable, but it was forceful. "Say it."
My heart raced. Sweat, not from the heat but from the moment, bubbled on my brow. My mouth dried, my skin prickled, my thoughts jumped and jounced, and my imagination, oh, my creative spark, it concocted horrible conclusions I dare not repeat. But I said it all the same.
"I don't know who I am anymore." The words tumbled out of me, a stream of reasoned, educated, traitorous, honest bile. "But I think I'm about to learn a few things. 'n I don't know if they'll be good. I might not be who I thought I was after this trip."
Libby bit her lip, not quite daring to look at me.
Dozens of images flashed by me in that short, horrible silence. The Crimson Catastrophe, slicing out at my little girl in the rain. The visit to Villeinville, and the gaps in my memory. The look in Traveller's eye as he slammed me in the chest. Doc leering over me, whispering to himself about my body. Bora, sliding in to kiss me... and Bora, transforming into a hideous, bloated monster. And... one word... a brand, applied to me by vermin, one I've tried to forget.
"And I'm afraid," I continued, trembling so violently that the feather on my floppy hat quivered, "I'm... I'm afraid that, when I meet this guy, I'm... I won't be your husband anymore - "
Libby grabbed my cheeks and wrenched me around so hard that my neck popped. Her kiss was dusty and cracked, a dry thing of the desert, but I've never tasted anything so sweet in my life. I kissed her back, and we held it for almost a minute.
She eventually broke off, but she kept her face so close to mine that her hissing words stung with the heat of her breath. "You're my fucking husband. You'll always be my fucking husband. You get that? I don't care what you learn in that stupid desert. You are my husband."
And that's how we said goodbye.
Loaded down with desert-ready supplies, we met outside the Dauphine a few hours later. The sun had already dipped beneath the horizon.
"Let's get going," Nagi advised, wincing at the weight of the backpack on her shoulders. Unlike the rest of us she's quite comfortable wearing her normal clothes out here. "We want to make good use of the night."
"Yeah, gods know I don't wanna be walking in these rags during the day," Logan replied. He, like the majority of the party, was swaddled in dusty white cloth. "I feel like a roll of toilet paper."
"Quit yer bitchin'," Grylock cut in. "I'm dyin' in here. We goblins aren't made fer this heat. I yearn for downpours... 'And when the bars are fully dried, / Our streams of piss the rain will hide...'"
"How I missed that anthem," Jeffrey said dryly. "Gok is such the songster."
"Better 'n you, human."
Plato quacked out a few words of agreement. Celine laughed, nodding.
As I scanned the desert, wondering (not for the first time) what internal mechanism was leading Plato to his former teacher, Traveller tapped me on the shoulder. I glared at him, noticing that his eyepatch did not, for once, stand out amidst his wardrobe.
"Hey, Dragomir? Can I ask ya something?"
I rolled my eyes. "Sure, go nuts."
"Did you say bye to Libby?"
"Yesssss, I said goodbye to my wife."
"Oh." He scratched the scruff on his chin. "Did you say goodbye to her for me? I forgot."
"No, Traveller. You should've done it yourself." I started to walk, motioning everyone onward, across the cooling sand.
"Oh," he said again. He scrambled to catch up to me, sliding a few times. "Why not? She was my girlfriend before she was your wife."
"Maybe." He pondered that idea for a full three minutes before saying anything else. I don't know why it taxed his brain so terribly. "Boyfriends and girlfriends are allowed to have sex, y'know. Even if the girlfriend is also a wife. I read that somewhere."
"Yeah, I'll bet you did."
I sighed. "Yes, Traveller?"
"I think I met a penguin somewhere 'round here. Did you know that?"
This is going to be a long walk.
Dragomir the Wanderer