Dema’s mouth went agape, the corner twitching, unable to respond.

“I would like to see them,” Theora continued. “Say goodbye.”

Dema’s expression melted into sympathy. “We weren’t sure how to tell you,” she said. “I’d… tell you now. But I don’t know. Might be better if you see it yourself. That alright?”

Theora blinked a few times, letting go of her legs. This was scary. Was the dream losing integrity? “I mean— Yes? Yes? You can show me something, when we are back.” She had no idea what that had to do with the wish she’d just expressed, but she was too overwhelmed to force the issue.

At the same time, Dema pushed herself from the wall, and gently floated towards Theora, and gave her a hug.

With Isobel’s directional guidance, they managed to enter the atmosphere at an angle and time that would land them close to their home.

Dema died on impact.

She would need a while to regenerate, and Theora had tried to remain whole throughout the explosion so she could scrap Dema’s remains back up and accelerate the process of her patching herself back together.

So, Theora sat in front of a heap of gore, herself a sooty, tired mess. These years had gone by so fast; probably because her brain had been foggy and her body fatigued, and because the others had done their best to keep her busy the entire time.

But as the flames died down and the wind carried the smoke away and the rain washed the ash from the air, Theora’s heart started thumping so hard. She seemed to be back home, and she’d missed all that so bad. The feeling of air on her skin. The feeling of solid ground under her legs. Rain.

Rain made her think of Hallmark. And Hallmark made her think of—

She winced, and tried to focus on the little finger Dema had already managed to form back from her gory remains. She reached out, gently touching it, and the finger immediately curled around hers.

Theora felt really bad for thinking it, but this all felt suspiciously real.

That was until she noticed that this wasn’t normal rain.

It was raining glowing honey-like drops of molten rot. The sky was filled with towering, gleaming clouds with golden hearts. Theora felt the poisonous precipitation seep into her skin. This was a calamity — the Rains of Fire; like an ice-age it was a global phenomenon that happened in spurts every few thousand years.

Last time she’d witnessed the event, Theora had spent it in a small village that no longer existed, because back then, she’d been less confident about moving across Himaeya during a calamity. Why was her mind coming up with that now?

“Ah, there you are,” the cheerful voice of Isobel rang out. She was arriving together with Bell, both under a wide and magically reinforced umbrella. They both looked different now than they used to — although perhaps that was just Theora’s imagination failing or her memory degrading. Bell’s shape had changed upon regrowing from polyp state; she was still blue-skinned with yellow and orange patterns, but the shape of her head was more mushroom-like now, and her tendrils had grown longer, and some thicker.

Isobel had lost a few more parts of her rock formation; the crevices were deeper, and another little leg on her front was missing. But she was beaming wide, running up and jumping against Theora for a hug, despite the rain.

Isobel was heavy, but Theora was strong, so she caught her without budging, and pressed herself into the embrace. Iso really had gotten very good at hugging; her thick moss patches were just in the right places to make the touch a squishful blessing. In the meantime, Dema’s finger had grown into a hand, holding Theora’s firm. Bell was keeping a polite distance, and nodded in acknowledgement.

Then, Isobel started piecing Dema back together; scarily, it looked like she had some experience with that. She seemed to understand which pieces of flesh were meant to be adjacent to each other, and reorganised them into the shape of a person, while Bell held her umbrella over the two. It didn’t look too unlike how Dema had once assembled Isobel. Then, they waited for Dema to emerge, again reminiscent of an egg hatching. Perhaps in the way that Theora was a little rabbit, Dema was a little chicklet.

As soon as Dema had her head back, she smiled at Theora. “There we are! Can’t wait to show you—”

Isobel took her head and placed it on another part of the body, where it slowly reattached.

“Wait,” Dema said, looking dizzy. “What was I saying? Got carried away there.”

Eventually, Iso helped her up, and Dema was still panting and smiling weakly. Bell was holding a folded set of clothing, probably for Dema to wear, but she waited until Iso had retched up a bubble of water for Dema to clean all her remaining blood off.

And then, Dema put on the simple linen dress; far too clean and proper to fit her usual style, but she didn’t seem to mind. She pirouetted a few times to watch the hemp of the clothing settle around her legs. “Finally,” she rasped. “All back together. And back home!”

“Not quite back home yet,” Iso said. “Still gotta get you both into bed so you can rest.”

“Ah, right.” Dema looked around, probably trying to figure out where they were.

Bell pointed behind herself. “That way. About half an hour.”

“I didn’t know we were having Rains of Fire,” Theora murmured, catching droplets in her hands. Probably because her brain had come up with it on the spot.This narrative has been purloined without the author's approval. Report any appearances on Amazon.

“Yep! Stay-at-home time,” Iso said, smiling. “Second one this century. It’s ’cause you inspired so many people to become heroes, when you left.”

Ah. Had she?

In that case, it almost made sense, even though it felt very self-indulgent to have that kind of fantasy. Rains of Fire were a natural phenomenon that was part of the mana cycle; when a lot of mana was used by entities on the planet, it moved up into the atmosphere, and it would finally rain back down once a critical amount was reached.

The mana was so highly concentrated that it could damage living creatures, and thus, many would take shelter during these times. The surrounding flora still looked mostly intact, so that likely meant the rains had just started.

And so, they went back home. Bell mostly shielded herself and Dema with the umbrella; it was difficult to shield against the Rains of Fire, as they would erode magic barriers by harming its casters. An hour or two inside the rain would not harm Theora, and likely wouldn’t harm Isobel that much, either, since she was made of rock.

Finally, they entered a village. The doors and windows were shut, but soft light burned in many. After walking through the main street, they went up a little hill on the outskirts, and up on its top stood Dema’s house.

Theora knew it was Dema’s house not because she remembered much of it from back then, but because it was made of blood and stone, with complicated rafters and elaborate pictures edged into the walls. The door was open.

“Ah,” Bell let out. “Looks like we might have a visitor.”

“Yeah,” Iso added, happily. “Looks like she made it in time.”

“Why, she travelled through the rain? What a charmer.” Dema giggled.

“I told her when you’d come back,” Isobel said. “But I wasn’t sure whether she’d actually come. If it’s her, she can of course go through the rain, but… Still kinda scary.”

Theora had no idea who they were talking about, but she was getting curious. They went in and took off their shoes, and Bell had towels and a change of clothes prepared for both Theora and Dema so they wouldn’t contaminate the inside of the house with glowing, gloopy honey rain.

There was nobody in the corridor either, and the first few rooms Theora could glance into were empty too. Finally, Dema was getting quite excited despite how clearly spent she was, and then she bumped into the doorframe and tumbled into the living room. “Back!” she cheered.

Theora went in last. Their visitor was someone she’d never seen before. A woman with long, black hair and pale leathery skin — in fact, unhealthily pale, with larger and smaller dark, old contusions littered across her body. She was taller than Dema and plumper; both of her eyes were gone, cut away by an old wound, the scar still stretching over her face in several rays. She was missing her left hand.

Theora would have pronounced her dead if not for the fact that she was moving. She’d never seen someone like her. In stark contrast to the woman’s body was her incredibly brilliant and clean attire; a wide-sleeved dress of sunlight orange and scarlet red.

The moment she heard Dema’s voice, she turned, and made a few steps forward to embrace her. “Missed you,” she said. “Oh, you seem exhausted.” Without hesitation, the woman picked Dema up, who yelped, but let herself be carried onto a sofa in the back of the room. Then, the woman draped a blanket over Dema, and turned around, having heard the others too.

“That’s Bell and Iso,” she said, likely by having felt their auras. “Then that means you are…”

“Theora,” Isobel introduced, and took Theora’s hand to drag her further into the room. “And that’s Antankla! Until you stepped foot back on Himaeya, she was the strongest hero on the planet. We met her in the Land of the Dead!”

“Pleased to meet you,” Theora said, and pointlessly bowed without thinking. “Thank you for taking care of Dema.”

Antankla smiled and nodded, and, after feeling for it, sat down on a chair next to Dema. “I’m glad you came back alright.”

“I’m glad I was saved,” Theora replied.

“Oh — right!” Dema suddenly let out, and jolted into a sitting position. “Got carried away again. Still gotta show you.” She got up, tapped over to Theora, and dragged her out of the room, while Bell and Iso proceeded to go and sit down with Antankla.

They went up into the second floor, and then, Dema plopped Theora down on a bed.

Theora giggled. “This is so nice. You are all so nice to me. Are you having a good time while I’m up there? I couldn’t possibly come up with anything that would make me more happy than all of this. I mean, not that that’s surprising.”

Dema tilted her head. “You good, lil rabbit? Still tired, huh? Guess it makes sense. You gotta sleep for a year or two to get all that outta your system.”

Theora laughed. “Well, now this is a little cruel.”

“Cruel,” Dema echoed. She raised her eyebrows, head tilting to the other side. “Whatcha talking about?”

“This is a dream, isn’t it?”

Dema jerked up in surprise. “Oh! That’s what you thought? Damn, such a mess. You really gotta sleep.”

“It’s not?”

“Nope!” Dema confirmed. “All here, all real.” She interlocked her fingers with Theora’s, and pressed down. With the other hand, she grazed Theora’s hair. “See? All real.”

“But that would mean you came back for me,” Theora said.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t we?”

Theora took a deep breath, shaking her head. “No, I mean. You used an Orb of Seven Wishes.”

Dema nodded. “Sure did!”

“But you couldn’t have faked that. You couldn’t have. It would only ever work if you really, truly loved me.”

“’Course I do!” Dema cheered. “That shouldn’t be news.” She blinked and jolted up. “Wait, is it news?”

Theora let out a broken laugh. Oh, this was cruel. This was real? She was back home? Actually back home? What?

Reality whiplashed back into her brain, and she winced. “Ah. Everyone’s—”

Dema softly put a finger on Theora’s lips to silence her. Then, she smiled, and went over to a cupboard, pulling out a thin rectangular package wrapped in cloth. “Wasn’t sure if we should tell you on the way. But… Y’know. You never asked until yesterday, so…”

She turned around and slowly pushed the bundle in Theora’s hands, then made a step back, waiting for her to open it.

Theora’s heart was beating so hard it hurt. Looking at this package somehow made her extremely anxious. She’d seen something like that before. A long, long time ago. And she vaguely remembered that back then, she’d opened it with a feeling of despair.

She slowly pulled the threads holding the bundle together, and then removed the fabric. A tear dropped out from her eyes on sight.

It was the Frame of the Lost.

The backside of it — just like last time. Who was inside? Had someone waited? Had someone waited for Theora to come back? Was that what Dema was trying to say? This was too much. Theora’s fingers were shaking. She almost didn’t dare to turn it over. But Dema’s expectant gaze bore down hard, so with a careful but swift gesture, Theora looked.

A punch to her chest. She hastily but gently placed the frame on the bed, like hot iron. The sobs came out. Oh, this couldn’t possibly be true. For her? No, this was impossible. She looked again, but it was real. Somehow, all of this was real. Theora could barely even breathe. Dema was suddenly there, holding her close and catching all of Theora’s snot and tears.

It was a group picture.

“No graves to visit, honey,” Dema said, low and firm. “No graves for you to visit.”