The blue car soared high over the Cavaheim caldera, its occupants weary from the journey. No one spoke.
Ruby leaned her head against the window, staring down at the valley, watching the trees, her chest aching with sorrow.
They'd left Eddie behind, his body buried next to an oak tree by a river near Holcomb. Bryce had said the tree was the first sign of real life he and Eddie had seen after coming out of the desert. Eddie had pointed to it and said, "Maybe we're not in hell after all."
"An appropriate site for his resting place," Gretchen Atwater had said. "It was a sign of hope for Eddie, and now Eddie has given hope to the whole world."
The'd stood solemnly by that tree, gazing down at his grave for more than an hour. No one wanted to leave. Even Montrose showed a hint of emotion on that solemn occasion. Skylar had carved the headstone.
Here lies Edwin Foster
The Sacrifice that saved us all
Winnie did not join them beside the grave.
As Ruby pondered all that had happen to them, staring out her window, she noticed the trees down in the Cavaheim valley were finally changing color, much later in the year than they should have. Ruby imagined there'd be all sorts of changes they'd have to adjust to in this new world. Perhaps the old calendar would need to be thrown out. New world, new rules.
She turned from the car window and glanced up at Winnie who sat in the front seat—leaning against the door that Skylar had repaired. No, he wasn't Winnie. He was Eddie. He was the same Eddie she'd known all along. His hair was longer, his demeanor more solemn with a slightly haunted look in his eyes. He stared out his own window. He avoided eye contact with the others and almost never spoke.
"How much farther," Montrose asked with a hint of impatience.
"What's the hurry?" Bryce asked.
"There's no room to move back here," Montrose replied. "I'm sick of it."
"And her bladder is full," Gretchen added.
"It's just up ahead," Bryce said. "Look."
The car climbed high enough for them to look down at the top of the spire. Green grass, a tiny grove of trees and a path leading up to the observatory at the center of the plateau. Beside the structure, two dragons lay sleeping, one curled up, its tail flicking like that of a sleeping cat. The other, a smaller one, lay huddled next to it.
For a moment, a pinprick of fear stabbed at Ruby. Were the Ord here now?
But no, the Ord were all dead. The only ones left to ride the dragons were hopefully friendly.
Bryce landed the car beside the main path. "Well, look who's here," he said as he jumped out of the car. From the open door of the observatory, a little gray-skinned girl came racing out to meet him. Bryce caught her and lifted her up, hugging her. She threw her arms around his neck.
Ruby climbed out of the car as she watched. She had only seen the girl once. The child had flown on the back of one of the dragons that rescued prisoners in Cavaheim the night Jarrock died. "What's the girl's name?"
"Kai," Eddie muttered. "She's a good kid."
"So full of life," Gretchen commented. "She's an extraordinary child."
Gretchen climbed out and stretched in the sunlight. "So warm here," she said. This place is special."
Kai spoke to Bryce excitedly. Ruby couldn't understand a word she said, even with her translator, and she suspected Bryce couldn't either. Kai turned to Eddie and cheered. She jumped down from Bryce's arms and ran to hug Eddie's leg. Eddie drew an arm around her shoulders.
Montrose marched straight for the observatory. Kevin stood in the doorway, and Montrose pushed him out of the way as she entered, no doubt looking for the bathroom.
Kevin stumbled one way, then stumbled back the other as Hera pushed out the other side of him. She spotted Ruby and let out a squeal of joy. Hera ran to Ruby, her arms thrown out for the coming embrace. She caught Ruby in a huge bearhug. "You're alive. You're okay," she cheered.
"And so are you," Ruby said stepping back to look at the girl. "Are you okay? Any side-effects of... you know... the Simp plague?"
"I'm fine, thanks to you," Hera said. "You saved my city twice. Did my father know how to pick saviors or what?"
They embraced again. Hera pulled back. "I came here to see Kevin... see if he wants to leave this island in the sky and come live with me in Cavaheim."
"And what did he say?"
"I think he's on the fence. You have to help me work on him."
"I'll see what I can do."
"So, what happened to you all," Kevin asked, moving up behind Hera.
Ruby opened her mouth to speak but didn't know where to begin. Finally she said, "So much."
"I know you stopped the plague," he said. "But what about... you know. The scary guy. Is he still out there?"
"Dead," Bryce said. "Not a threat anymore, but we lost a friend in the process."
Kevin frowned. "Anyone I know?"
Ruby, Gretchen and Bryce all turned to Eddie. Eddie cringed under their gazes. He turned and wandered away towards the edge of the plateau.
"It's really complicated," Bryce said.
"Could you guys give me some time with him," Ruby asked, walking towards Eddie.
"He may not be the Eddie you think you know," Gretchen said. "He's spent the last two months preparing to die. That's had to take a toll."
"I'll keep that in mind," Ruby said.
"Come on," Gretchen said to Bryce, walking towards the observatory. "Everyone is expecting a story, especially the truth knight."
Winnie-Eddie sat on the edge of the plateau, gazing down at the valley. Ruby sat next to him.
For a while, neither of them spoke. Wisps of clouds lazed by below them, casting shadows on the distant trees.
"You saved me from the wolf-boar," Ruby said.
"So... what happened to me the first time you lived this reality... when you weren't there to save me."
"Devick saved you from the wolf-boar, but she was too late to save your leg. You were crippled. Then the Ord captured you and threw you in prison. Kai and I rescued you with Skylar's help, but you were... you were not..."
Ruby contemplated this. There was another timeline in which so much was different.
"You saved me."
"Not soon enough."
"I mean, this time... this timeline. You saved me from all of that."
Eddie frowned and looked away.
"What's wrong, Eddie?"
"I was supposed to die back there." He kept his face turned from her.
"And you did. We had a funeral."
Eddie said nothing.
Ruby laid a hand on his shoulder. Eddie flinched but didn't turn.
"Eddie, everything you did—protecting me, going after Tim—you saved the whole world. The whole universe."
"But none of this would have happened if I hadn't helped Tim."
"Really? You think Tim couldn't have convinced someone else to walk through the time portal?"
Eddie finally turned. He looked in her eyes, his expression impossible to read.
"What is it?"
He took a deep breath. "All this time, all these weeks, I've prepared myself to die. I thought it was the only way to atone for what I'd done. I was glad to know that you and... the other me... had time together. I thought maybe something might happen between you."
She leaned over and took his hand. He flinched again, but he didn't pull away.
"Something did happen," she said.
"And now he's dead. I'm sorry for you."
"Eddie, he's you. You're him. My heart broke when he died, but at least I get another chance."
He frowned down at their hands.
"I don't think I've ever been this close to a girl before."
She frowned. "Really? We've kissed three times."
"That wasn't me."
"Then maybe I'm lucky. I get a chance to do something that nobody in history has ever had."
"I get to have two first kisses with the same man."