“I can’t believe we survived it!” Shades laughed, with both gusto and relief, amazed he was still alive as he retook the helm. “Though I must say, not a bad bit of rescuing…”
“We do make a pretty good team,” Max told them, hoping his words would hold true.
“Maybe we do…” Justin reflected on he and Shades’ keeping each other’s backs in that battle, wondering if he hadn’t misjudged him. At least he was beginning to understand the method to Shades’ madness, as well as that foreign notion Max called honor. Though he still wasn’t entirely sure what he thought of it. It was certainly a change from what he was used to, but an increasingly welcome one. “Maybe we do.”
“Dude,” Shades told him, “the next time I get a brilliant idea like this, please feel free to stuff me in the supply closet until I come to my senses.”
“Way ahead of you, man,” Justin told him. “And I’ll hold you to your word on that. That was nuts.”
“I’m just glad you’re such a good shot!” Shades told him, wondering if Justin hadn’t finally decided to bury the hatchet.
“Best this side of the Triangle State!” he boasted, whipping out his hand and pointing his finger at Shades’ head with almost blinding speed.
“Could you give me some pointers?”
“Sure, if you’ll show me how to pick locks…”
Max watched his two friends congratulating each other on a battle well fought, his worries from days past largely dispelled by their growing rapport. Once upon a time he dreamt of going on an adventure with his father and Lance and Cleo; now he traveled with Bandit, Justin and Shades. Seeing those two now, he doubted this adventure was going to end any time soon.
He just hoped sparing Striker wasn’t a mistake, of the kind that would come back to haunt him as Slash did to his father years ago. None of them had any idea which way Striker’s other ship would come from, so they put the pedal to the metal. Counting on the Cyexians being more preoccupied with rescuing their mates than with retaliation. Hopefully.
All of them, though, watched for a moment with immense satisfaction as that black flag slipped beneath the waves. At last looking back on the one sight as beautiful to behold as the sunset, and that was the one thing they could no longer see: the Brazen.
As the Maximum set out, Shades looked out at the setting sun, recalling an old line he once heard as a child. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Then he smiled. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight…
Though he had no idea if such weather wisdom held true in the Sixth Dimension, it was still a good expression for how this moment felt.
“I wonder if we’ll ever see the Triad again,” he pondered aloud, having no idea what he would do if they ever did meet again.
“Or Abu-Sharrah,” Max added, again thinking about how strange that old man could be, almost mystical. Life is a funny thing, he recalled his mother saying once, often moving in circles of varying sizes…
“I hope not!” Justin laughed. “Either one!”
He was still at something of a loss for why he would miss Striker when he had a clean shot. A lifetime of instinct told him he should have killed her then and there so she could never kill them later, yet he found he just couldn’t pull the trigger on someone as defenseless as she was then. Especially not in front of Max. Then again, he found he didn’t regret it as much as he thought he would.
So this is what satisfaction feels like, he thought to himself. I could get used to this.
“Who knows?” Shades shrugged. One night over a month ago, he made what he once thought was a wrong turn on his way home from work. Now he wasn’t so sure. Not after hitching a ride on Abu-Sharrah’s path, on an unknown road that likely went on forever, even if those who traveled it did not.
Looking out at that horizon, with its promise of a thousand destinations, he found he could believe it. That whatever he might seek, hidden treasure, mysteries, true love— even his missing friends— it was all out there, merely waiting to be found. Days, though, might not align between planes, and he may already have missed the ceremony back on Earth.
But he felt he had graduated after his own fashion.
“I know you’re out there…” he said quietly as the others talked. He may have missed his own graduation, but he had no intention of missing his hike, or his date, either one. “Hang on… I’ll find you, I promise…”
At that moment, Shades recalled a most bizarre dream he had last night.
In what appeared to be some smoky, dimly-lit tavern lobby. With the Flaming Ghost sitting across the table from him. Why he was now on such inexplicably peaceful terms with a being that once threatened him with eternal torment was beyond him, but the fiery apparition was now dealing cards. Cards similar to the ones the role-playing crowd always played with in the library, with stylized art depicting different people on them. Frequently reshuffling, though the cards never so much as singed in its burning hands.
Instead of the usual arcana, the cards all bore the names and likenesses of his friends, as well as other names from the Book of Fate, accompanied by faces he had never seen before, and remembered little of upon awakening. All arrayed against one another in different combinations, allies and enemies whose implications were all unknown to him. Playing for keeps, that much he understood. Accompanied by glimpses on the TV hanging near the ceiling, showing scenes of far-off places, and a voice that sounded like some deranged sports announcer giving a largely incoherent play-by-play of what appeared to be battles in the future.
And some cryptic remark, something about “the next time we play” that he desperately wished he could remember the rest of.
The whole thing, eerie as it was, made him feel hopeful for some reason. The cards have been reshuffled, the dice re-tossed… And not even the Book of Fate could foretell where they would land.
Before, he had worried over potentially messing with the lives of people he had never heard of, but now he wondered if perhaps he should be glad that he had read his friends’ names in the book, that if he had changed his own fate, as well as his companions’, he might well have given himself an opening to change John and Amy’s fates, as well, a thought that gave him renewed hope.
“So where to now?” Justin asked.
“Wherever the winds may take us,” Max replied, taking inspiration from Abu-Sharrah’s blessing. Found himself reflecting that perhaps they were all part of the same long journey. The journey is the destination, Robert sometimes used to say, and now he felt he was at last beginning to understand what his father meant. Now that he was finally getting to journey to that destination, chasing a dream of adventure. To be sure, one of danger, as well, yet somehow he felt they were ready for it.
As ready as we’ll ever be…
And so the journey continued. Different people from different places, and all a long way from the places they once called home. But now traveling the same path as they sailed off into the sunset.
To wherever the winds may take them.