White, part II. The Undertaker.

© 2001 by Torquemada

This page was last modified: 2001/07/11

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What? Are you serious, to rely on him?

You owe him, admit it. And you owe this country, too.

Yes, but that's why I am reluctant.

Let's put it like this -- do we have another choice?

The awakening eventually won over his ferocious struggles to leave beyond consciousness. He didn't want to go back. Something bad was waiting for him there.

Struggles didn't help to fight his own mind -- for this, he was too weak, and the knowledge returned, step by ugly step.

He opened his eyes, and immediately he was stabbed there by a sharp white pain, which made his eyes water -- the only kind of tears he ever cried. He couldn't stand it, closed his eyes again -- but now, when the pain found him awake, it refused to go away. And the cold. He felt cold, his face utterly numb -- from the long stillness in the same position.

All his senses returned at once, hitting him like a stone avalanche, cutting him from the way back to sweet oblivion.

White and painful was the snow, he recalled the image. The wind blew snowflakes back and fro -- that was sinister snow, not like these big soft fluffy balls, lazily landing upon the earth, covering it like a pure white and soft blanket. These snowflakes were like tiny sharp daggers, biting and stinging him. They rustled and hissed angrily into his ear -- the sound they made was like the rattling of tiny dry bones, dead long ago; they joined into the constant silent whisper, the never-ending song by the dead about the dead.

He lifted his head so abruptly that his eyes went dark for a moment. They could stay blind, why didn't they, he thought the next minute, looking at the dark still figure on the snow -- blurred dark, because a thin layer of crystalline snowflakes covered it, except for the neat round place, where it was still dark green -- the place his head rested just a minute ago. That's why it felt so cold and hard, he thought. Breastplates seldom made cozy pillows.

He sat, taking a more comfortable pose. For some time, he looked at the body on the ground.

"Move on, Syd. Let's go home." He gently tried to shake the body by its shoulder, but it hadn't moved an inch. He tried harder, with the same result. With arising nausea, he tried both shoulders -- yet, nothing.

Some cynical realization kicked and knocked at his mind, but he knew he didn't want to let it in, whatever it was -- it was wrong. He pulled the body, violently now, with all his harsh force -- and suddenly it gave in, with a loud dry crack. It had been frozen to the ground.

Nothing alive could sound like that.

Suddenly, everything returned to the right place. Now, he clearly saw what he had refused to see at first -- the snow didn't melt on this pale face with blue lips, light blue eyelids and those black-on-white eyelashes, so long...yet not long enough to cover the dull marbles of dead eyes completely.

It was from this knowledge he was hiding in the dream, wishing to stay there forever. Never be back. Never meet these glasslike eyes. Never remember that Viking Tiger was dead.

Syd hated that nickname. It made him feel unreal, he was used to say in his aristocratic, well-articulated voice. Viking Tiger...now, of course. Who ever saw such a creature? The other God Robes were understandable, they had their niche. Tiger? No tigers in Asgard, ever. How was he supposed to behave, then? What kind of power did he possess? Nothing but a mirage. A fantasy. A shadow.

With malicious delight, Bud called his twin 'Viking Tiger' all the time for himself. He felt unreal? What a nonsense. He could never imagine what it was to be a real shadow, always. So let him share this feeling.

* * *

"To be his shadow? Why are you doing this to me, Hilda? I'm at your service much longer than he is, and I am far better. We both know that, then why? I cannot understand, explain that to me!"

Hilda watched the white armored figure, admiring him against her will. He was disappointed, shocked and hurt -- he had the right, since he really did not deserve to be paid like that. But yet -- he was in no way broken, no sign of desperation in his posture, not a trace of plea in his voice, only the impatient demand in those daring eyes. How ever strong his fury was, it was not blind. And he addressed her without any respect and royalties -- simply 'Hilda'...any other warrior would face punishment for such disrespect, yet he dared. Definitely on purpose.

She caught herself again at the fascinated thoughts about these mysterious twins, so alike and so different.

Syd, who had the loyalty of Thor, the nobility of Siegfried, the persistence of Hagen, the perception of Fenrir, the tranquility of Mime, the intelligence of Alberich.

And Bud. Stubborn like Thor. Despotic like Siegfried. Uncontrollable like Hagen. Cruel like Fenrir. Indifferent like Mime. Mischievous like Alberich.

Two poles, each condensing a little from every of the other warriors. Together, they would make a perfect unity, a precise quintessence of human beings. And separated...they were unreal, like their Beasts of Power.

"It is not that bad to be a shadow, Bud," Hilda slowly replied, lazily twirling a strand of her hair around her finger.

"Oh, sure..." Bud narrowed his eyes ironically, holding her look without any shade of fear and obedience.

"I can prove it. For example...would you like to play a shadow of Siegfried?" she smiled at Bud's apparent loss. Of course he suspected what she was hinting at, but could not believe -- and now he was guessing what kind of game she was playing. To see this independent creature being lost was really pleasant. Small victories sometimes were as sweet as big ones. If not sweeter.

"What do you mean?" he finally asked, frowning suspiciously.

Hilda laughed, left the balcony she was leaning on, and stepped inside. Looked at him, still standing in the same place, over her shoulder.

"Are you going or not?"

He accepted the challenge.

* * *

The white plains around him -- snowy, deserted. Just the wind -- twitching, sharp and hurting. Only the wind seemed alive here, much more alive than the dark body on the ground. More alive than himself. Till this day -- or maybe morning or evening, he didn't know how long he had been unconscious -- he never noticed, how hostile and uncaring this land was. He couldn't notice, anyway -- he was like that himself, all the time, he never knew an other way to be.

As if he never knew how vital and necessary one certain part of his life was, until someone came and took it away.

Syd lay on the ground, a dark shape disturbing the whiteness of the snowy desert. Disturbing his eyes, his mind as well. If Syd wasn't here, he could think that Syd was gone...somewhere. Hidden, covered, vanished out of his reach. Yes, then he could call Syd a coward, who ran away, not daring to face the consequences of the crime that he was the reason of (he didn't know, he cannot be blamed, the cold truth emerged on his mind's surface, but he strangled it). Maybe then he could get his feelings back. His usual feelings -- hatred, scorn. Distrust. Better that than this knowledge.

He had to hide the body away.

Besides, this was his duty as Syd's closest relative. Syd had a warrior's death

he wasted his life to save yours he was ready to give up for his queen but when the threat came upon you he sacrificed that last tiny sparkle of his life his reason to die was your life oh shut up shut up shut up I don't want to hear it nevermore

and he earned to be honoured with a warrior's funeral.

The earth was rejected as not being reliable enough. It would accept the body emotionlessly, and immediately it would forget about it. Soon, the place of burial would be lost and forgotten by everything and everyone.

Except him. He would always remember. Every snowy plain would remind him. He needed something else, which would cause Earth to writhe in pain and remember this death, like he would. Something that could stop even the ravenous wind, stop it and make it to round the place.

The fire. It could never be ignored.

Obsessed by the vision of searing deadly flames, destroying everything, taking away all that he didn't want to see, he rushed towards the nearest forest. He tore the ice-covered branches with his bare hands, pulled out the smaller trees, oblivious both to the blood on them and the unnatural strength he possessed. The pile of wood in the plains grew higher and higher, gaining the shape -- and finally, he felt content with his work.

He lifted the body from the ground and placed it on the bonfire. The dark outline of the body merged with the wood, looking weirdly matching -- like one whole, like a proof that he did the right thing.

He looked at that for some time, reluctant to finish what he started, and when he eventually concentrated enough sanity to do it, he realized that fate still kept the same attitude towards him.

He hadn't anything to get the fire from.

* * *

Fate had to work hard on him, Hilda thought, looking at the figure beside her. The moonlight through the window coloured the room in shades of black and silver, everything around looked still, ghostly and unreal.

But even the moonlight could not make him look calm and peaceful, despite of his closed eyes and solid breathing. He wasn't sleeping, Hilda sensed it well.

It was not the first night of theirs, and definitely not the last. Hilda liked these nights, with lust, sin and danger intertwined.

And no sign of love. Love...she could have it from Siegfried, who probably was sitting at the entrance of her rooms now, guarding -- and the knowledge of that added to the mix of sensations she was experiencing during those nights. Hilda had suspected that the feeling of this secret treachery would arouse her, but never expected how much really, until she fulfilled that wish of hers. Just a few weeks ago, she couldn't even think about cheating on Siegfried, and now... Hilda smiled. Now, she was free to do anything she wanted to. The ring set her free. And all the wishes and desires she never suspected her soul to contain now became easy and feasible.

She was going to keep Siegfried beside her anyway. It was so pleasant to see his devotion, to play with him, to notice how willingly he rushed to obey her orders, even the weirdest ones -- and altogether think 'If you only knew...'. But he would never know.

Or would he?

She looked at Bud again. Her secret...weapon, she smiled to herself, he did not tell anyone about his recent role in the Queen's life. But not because of loyalty or chivalry, she was sure about that. 'Loyal', 'chivalrous', 'obedient' -- these were words as far as possible away from his nature.

Fate treated him ill from the day he was born. Every twist of it promised him some new misfortune and more ordeals. Now, he was like a tightened spring, always ready to strike, if the sudden luck meant that a new disaster was waiting around a corner -- to him, it always was. Always alert, always aware. Hilda never saw him relaxed, even in that subtle, intimate situation where most men felt safe and awarded.

But for him, it was only a prelude to the next nasty surprise. Hilda liked that feeling, being with such a creature. Like playing with a gun, which, no matter how carefully you disarmed it, always contained that one bullet, and shot at you when you were least expecting it.

Bud was danger. Siegfried...his 'S' for sin. And she was the lust. Nothing could elate her more. Love? Who needed it with that perfect trinity?

As an answer, his eyes shot open. Concerned, suspicious. Not a mere shade of tenderness.


"I was thinking," Hilda kept the sinful smile, "I've heard that the lions are able to do it fifty times per day. I know nothing about tigers, though. They were not mentioned..."

Bud stared at her with an expression very far from playful. Then he shrugged and dragged her closer.

* * *

Never give up and spite fate, that was his motto all his life. If fate thought he would surrender in front of such a nuisance -- it was wrong. It was not a hard task to find the fire, it just needed some time. And time -- he had it all.

He knew that the fire cave of Hagen was somewhere near. In fact, he knew a lot about every God Warrior, while they knew nothing about him. Hilda was right there. Being a shadow did have its advantages.

Something cracked under his feet. The splinters of the harp. The deadly weapon of Benetnasch.

The sad remains of its former owner were barely visible under the snow. His armour was neatly piled up next to the body.

"What ritual have you performed here, Mime? Ah, whatever. It didn't help you much, since you are dead anyway."

Before entering the cursed forest of the Niblungs, he automatically built the usual wall around his mind, to protect it from the rotting influence the forest was famed for, but this time it was not necessary. Nothing tried to enter his mind, whispering poisonous thoughts and suicidal ideas. Probably the power of the forest had faded away, with the death of its master.

"Hello Alberich, you little weasel! What a face...just don't tell me you were afraid of dying. You shouldn't be; I'm sure Hell prepared a comfy corner for you, you'll definitely make a career there, ha ha."

He left the forest behind. A few more miles, and he finally saw the cave. And in front of it...

"My, who makes Thor's Hammer like that?"

He broke off the top of the strange shape of crossed branches, adjusting the form of this monument to death. Hagen had encountered the strange opponent: knowing that he had very limited time, yet he honored the slain warrior with the burial mound. He even attempted to build the sign.

"What? An intruder? Who let him?"

"I did. Let him go."

"He's not meant to be here! Why?"

"Just let him go..."

Were those whispers for real or just an illusion caused by the hellish heat? He reached the big cave, its walls red, and a lava lake down below. He bent down, holding a stick that he had taken from Hagen's grave, but still he could not reach the lava, even when he lay on the very edge, balancing dangerously. The fire likely backed away from him.

"Fate, old pal...you're still the same."

The sudden flash of redness blinded him for a moment, and then the shape stood in front of him. Or rather floated, the eight-legged flaming horse, standing on his hind legs.

He extended the stick towards the apparition. A tiny tongue of flame jumped onto it swiftly, and the horse disappeared.

"Thank you."

A gift from Merak. Why? They never knew each other.

He found a bowl-shaped stone and put the embers there. They flickered all the way back, neither the wind nor the snow even tried to extinguish them. The spell of Merak was stronger.

He placed the embers carefully in the bonfire and waited until the fire appeared and he was sure the wood was burning properly. Then he climbed onto the bonfire.

"Move over," he said to Syd. As the body didn't react, he shifted it by himself and lay next, waiting for the saviour fire to engulf him.

Which refused to do that. The embers glowered, the wood let clouds of thick acrid smoke, but the fire did not emerge.

"I am truly charmed by your loyalty towards me, dear Fate. Truly."

What has fate got to do with it? Do you really think that Merak, Star of Fire, gave a bit of itself to you just because it enjoys to watch how crazy people go on crazy suicides?

"I am not crazy. I thought about everything."

Did you? Let me point out the fact then, that talking to oneself is one of the most serious symptoms of the sick mind.

"I am not talking to myself. I am talking to you."

Really? But I am -- how to put it tactically -- quite dead.

"Does it matter?"

But he gave up, after all, and left the pile of wood -- just to see what would happen. And the fire didn't waste time, it immediately rose up with its full force, greedily covering the body and the whole pile of wood, as if fearing he might change his mind.

But he just stood there, looking at the flames. After some time -- he still was not able to calculate it -- a shape formed in the fire, the so familiar shape of the tiger. It was there a few short moments, then disappeared -- the tiny white star shot up the skies. The Tiger saluted his master by staying with him to the very end, and then returned to its place of waiting. Eternal Robe...temporary master. And the fire went down, immediately, leaving nothing but a heap of embers.

"Alright, Star of Fire. Repeat for me again, please -- what do you want from me?"

* * *

"Don't you ever feel proud that the Queen has chosen you?" Hilda liked to tease him with such questions. He never asked her anything, neither he looked flattered or content; even in the most intimate moments, his eyes were sharp and cautious, as if they were saying 'I don't understand what game you are playing, but I am in, while it suits me. For now'.

She could win every Warrior this way, she knew. Not just Siegfried, who loved her blindly, but also out-of-this-world Mime, and devoted-to-her-sister Hagen. And the little devil Alberich, who never cared to disguise his passion towards her, even he could be soothed and put into silly gullibility. For how long -- that was another question. And how they accepted the reality, when she would tell them later, that she was only toying with them...differently, that's for sure. But all would feel hurt and betrayed. Even the little devil Alberich.

Bud, however, didn't think that she was sincere from the beginning of their encounter. He would probably just bow and then he would turn away with 'well, that's the rational end'.

That's why she still kept him.

"Why? Am I not fulfilling my duty good enough?" He frowned without a real care but a hint of curiosity.

"You call that duty?" For some reason, his words didn't offend her, but amused. "Is it something so...aversive to you?"

"Some duties are pleasant. Some are not."

This dual answer left her with a choice either to ask the question, which would sound plainly silly, or to satisfy herself -- not for the first time this night -- with something that was pleasant at least for her.

Sharp pleasure, sharp danger, sharp movements. Sharp teeth. Hilda couldn't get rid of the obsessive thought to order him to leave his armour one night -- only this way he could activate those sharp tiger claws, and she wanted to possess him fully, to discover every secret of his entity, skipping nothing and leaving nothing untouched. And no matter what he would think about such a freaky wish. He would not let her know anyway.

Hilda enjoyed being on the edge, she liked the taste of danger. And she wanted more.

* * *

"Thor, why are you so damn heavy? Of course, you didn't think over your bring-me-another-roast-ox dinners, that one bloody day I'll be straining myself so hard to drag you onto your funeral fire..."

Somehow, he managed to place the body onto its place to go. He bent down to pick up his fire bowl -- there were enough embers left, despite of wasting plenty for every bonfire.

He lifted his head. Beyond the darkening horizon, the straight spear of smoke was still visible; a grey thread, connecting the sky and the earth.

That was Fenrir's bonfire. He could not leave his wolves unburied, they died like true warriors. No matter that they were slain defending not some abstract concept of freedom, but their friend -- and Old King had to be respected no less than his young human fellow.

Mime was taken away by the fire almost instantly. He weighed not much more than a feather, the fire had to do not too much of a job there. Was he always such an aerial being, or was his soul so heavy that it left nothing when it was gone, Bud didn't know. And didn't care, either.

He had some doubts concerning Alberich. He knew that the little sorcerer was a dwarf, and would the child of earth and stone be accepted by the fire? Moreover, was it right to give him to it? He knew nothing about the burial traditions of the dwarves, and eventually he decided to treat Alberich just like any other dead warrior. Let the others in Valhalla solve this problem; he had enough of his own.

The fire had accepted the body. Bud stayed there till the fire extinguished and the Power of Megrez departed to its hiding place, probably as horrible as the Robe itself. After that, he hurriedly fled away from that place, carrying the ironic farewell grin of the skull and the crushing, tearing pain of the trees. They also mourned their Master.

The embers suddenly finished right when he had placed the required quantity around Thor. And again, the same scenario repeated -- bright flames, the silent salute of Jormungand, the departure -- and then nothing.

Nothing on the ground. No sign of embers. Did that mean that the mission, which was put upon him (he still doubted whether he interpreted it properly) was accomplished?

"Syd is one, and Mime is two, I don't care no more 'bout you, adding Alberich and Thor we will get already four, Hagen rots in earth, that's five, only Bud is still alive..." he sang the silly improvised rhymes into the sky. They appeared so easily like by their own will. "We forgot the Wolf, that's six, now it's Siegfried what I miss!"

"Whoa!" he looked around, laughing, his eyes scanning the whereabouts. "You don't know how to count, Merak or whoever you are! You did not leave the share for old Siegfried! Just don't tell me he survived. I know he's a corpse."

Again he considered the thought of the possibly mistaken understanding of Merak's request. Could that possibly be that it wanted something else from him, not a proper burial ritual for his dead comrades? Instinctively, he looked up at the sky, searching for the Big Dipper. The stars were distinctive and bright, and -- all as one -- looked somewhat new. Except, of course, Alcor, which was dull and barely visible, like always -- that stepchild of the Big Dipper. The unloved bastard of Fate.

He chuckled, then continued his conversation with the emptiness.

"...of course, I would never expect you to spare a tiny bit for me. Well, you know, like a small present of gratitude for your labourer. But don't worry, no offence taken. I'm used to such treatment, you see. So if you, say, accidentally gave me a chance to finish with myself, I would be more surprised, because..."

The sudden flash of implausible thought cut his speech off in the middle of the sentence.

He realized that he didn't want to die anymore. After he guided so many souls to the world of death, he was firmly sure about that.

"You're too mean to me, Merak. That was too much," he managed to think before the uplifting madness that helped him to stand this day, finally retreated, leaving his exhausted body to face the consequences of his self-destructive activities, and he collapsed heavily into the snow.

* * *

"Why are you still so obsessed with Syd? I explained to you that the Tiger of Mizar chose him itself, this was not my decision. If it decided Syd was worthier to wear the Robe of Mizar, let it be. Why can't you just forget it and be happy about your own Robe? Big difference -- one tiny blue gem..." Hilda rummaged gleefully in Bud's most painful wound, and felt a tingle of satisfaction and pride, when she caught his hateful look on herself. From the day she persuaded him to be Syd's shadow, he managed to never show his emotions about that. Well, almost never. Hilda was skillful.

"The situation can change. You said that yourself."

"Oh yes, it can change indeed. With Syd's death. And that is another reason for you to guard him better than your eye's pupil. Because if any weird accident happened to Syd, I would exactly know whom to blame -- and you would be destroyed, my dear shadow. Don't let envy win over you...because then it would be not the Mizar Robe waiting for you, but me. As Celestial Judge." Hilda smiled sweetly at another brief flash of hatred in his eyes. To hit such a target twice in some puny minutes...that was thrilling; encouraged by her victory, she continued:

"So, can I trust your common sense?"

"No. Did you, ever?"

His kind of answer. Plain truth, and not because he felt invincible in her favour, for he didn't. He simply didn't care. That was what made him uncontrollable, dangerous and altogether so magnetic.

When Hilda woke up, she was alone, like always. She never saw him sleeping, or going asleep, or just drowsing. Not one time in their shared nights. She didn't knew whether he was aware of her, or if it was his usual habit. Whatever. It was fun. If she could not persuade him to trust her, at least let the sense of danger keep him alert all the time. He tortured himself constantly, and that compensated the disappointment from the fact she was not participating in that process.

And yet he was not invulnerable, she felt that. And that meant, one day or another, she would discover his weak point.

'And then I shall enjoy your crush, Bud. I'll make you pay for everything.'

She smiled.

* * *

Despite of his wish, the determination to die hadn't returned the next day, when he sprang out of his heavy sleep, cursing himself for being so careless. He felt cold, but this was the casual cold, not that lethal freeze he expected to come over him in the night. It was enough to make him feel really bad, but in no way it was lethal. Another little prank of fate.

Here he was, the one who witnessed the departure of his former allies, the late forces of Asgard -- and who himself wasn't allowed to follow. The way to Valhalla happened to be closed for him, and life was meaningless.

His hatred at fate was so contemporary, that he didn't even pay attention to it; it was the state he was constantly in. Yet, now it multiplied many times, and it was searching for a way out.

Those people, who came and ruined everything, they probably returned to their homeland, all happy and satiated, and continued their warm cloudless lives as if nothing happened. As if there wasn't the ultimate destruction of the whole country's defenses. Life was easy when they never saw the glow of a funeral fire. They would never be haunted by the sound of a dead body splitting off the ground, by the mute excruciating grief of the trees, by the piled up bodies of the wolves, in front of what even the fire hesitated, terrified.

They do not deserve the peace of their souls.

Whom should he finish first, the one who killed Syd or his brother? He couldn't decide whom he hated more -- the one, who's false compassion made Syd die twice, or the other, who revealed him the truth and had enough cruelty to leave him alive after that.

He would definitely kill this one. The stranger had dared to enter his soul and behave there like in his own privy. The thought that someone, who had seen his real self, walked safe and happy under the sun, drilled painfully in his mind. To get his balance back, he had to see that man dying.

And then his younger brother would be spared. If you could call it 'spare' the life after you watched your brother die in front of you, looking into the indifferent, guiltless eyes of the murderer.

"Yeah. That's right." He got up, trying to ignore the shakiness, and made a few unsteady steps towards the sea. He knew where to search, had been there once...with Syd.

Oh yes, Bud. Chase those strangers, who were strong enough to slay us all. Go and face them on their own land, where their strength will be doubled. I only think, if you get a rope and a tree with good thick branches, your trip to Niflheim will be faster and cheaper.

"Shut up! You are dead!"

Oh, so it does matter, after all?

His feet refused to obey him further, and he fell down into the snow with a helpless growl.

And anyway, who told you that these people are happy about what they have done? You saw the eyes of the killer, refusing to look deeper. That's because it is simpler to hate the plain heartless assassin than to see behind the label that you awarded him with, a human being, whose destiny constantly rapes his nature, now isn't it? You don't want to identify with the one who suffers -- because hating is much easier, am I right?

"I don't need your advices, smartie," he spat the words into the snow. "All that time you were so sickeningly right, the reasonable good boy with the right words ready for everyone! Shiny striking Number One, I'm fed up with your dominance, hear me?" his voice broke on the cry, and the last two words were merely whispered.

Open your eyes, finally, and face the truth, you coward! I am number one, you say? How can you possibly fail to notice that we switched places? Now, you are not just that Number One, but the only one! And I am even less than a shadow, but do I eat myself because of that? Stop running away of reality and accept your new life with all responsibilities!

"You..." He lifted his head and was hit by the silence of his surroundings. The voice faded away; now, he wasn't sure whether this creepy conversation was not just the result of his imagination. Yet, the words that were said -- they stayed.

There was no more Syd, the twin of luck. As there was no more proud Siegfried, brave Thor, devious Alberich. All the frontier soldiers were gone.

Which meant that his desperate dream -- to step out of the shadow -- had finally become true.

And, as it often happened with fulfilled dreams, the result appeared to be very different from his expectations. He was so used to live a shadow's life that he was utterly unready to accept such change. And like a proper shadow, which always disappeared when it's caster was gone, he tried to follow the rule, pretending that the dream had never happened, since he wished it to be not like that. To shrink, to dissolve...was he really so attached to his shadowy life?

He dropped his head back onto the snow, trying to put some order in the chaotic pressure of those new thoughts.

So, he was a coward. He admitted that, the first step done. Next, he was dragged mercilessly to this new life, without having any choice. This was scary indeed. But wasn't he used to various 'no choices', was it not him who learned all his life how to struggle against them?

Besides, there were many things in his past life, that needn't be left behind -- his perception, his sense of survival. These and some others he would pick up, leaving all the trash behind.

Then... he hesitated before taking the decision, but this he could not escape -- Hilda. The defeated queen, who most likely saw no future for herself either. If he dared to face her, after all which had happened, and if she was able to accept him and reconcile herself to what had happened -- then perhaps they could manage to survive -- two cripples, supporting each other, two broken lives, trying to collect and glue the loose scattered pieces, two scourged souls, helping with each other's pain...

...it would not be easy, he knew. Even if their shared experiences would let them rebuild, more or less, themselves for new, there would come a time, when he would encounter the grief for Syd -- not because his death left Bud without his cover and threw him into all of this, but plainly because Syd was not beside him.

And yet, to achieve this, there was still a long way to go. Hard, too; but to hardships he was used.

Yes. He, Bud of Alcor, fate's battered but undefeated plaything, would learn how to live in the fulfilled dream.

The End

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