What Forever Means
When Rebecca finally fell asleep that night, her dreams were a mess of misery, fear and self-hatred – even more so than usual. Her tortured mind couldn't help but go back to two months earlier, when the full truth of Morganthe's evil cause had hit home at full-speed. She had thought she'd felt broken then, but she had been wrong. That had been only the tip of the iceberg.
Rebecca sat down beneath a softly-rustling tree, as though its sweeping branches could shelter her from the doom to come. She closed her eyes fiercely against the gold-kissed moonlight falling all around her, like the shards of solid ice that rained down from the stars.
Her entire body heaved with tears of deepest regret. They were all going to die. Every single inhabitant of this world would perish, for no other reason than because she had tried to help the Aztecans in other, less important ways, instead of focusing her attention on what really mattered. She had simply assumed that there was time to spare, even though everyone around her knew better. Why hadn't she known?
She had been sent here to protect Azteca from the threatening comet, Xibalba, but in the end, it seemed as though her lack of urgency had, in effect, provided more aid to the Shadow Queen than to anyone else. Her mission had been to find a way to destroy or deflect the comet, but now, such a thing was impossible.
This crucial responsibility had been placed on her slender shoulders by Headmaster Ambrose himself… but it had somehow fallen, and everything else around her seemed to be following suit.
Her shoulders were not good enough, it seemed. Not steady enough. Not sturdy enough. Not strong enough. Not anymore.
And her mission… she had let it fall. She had let them all fall.
"I can't go back…" Rebecca heard her own hoarse voice, but it felt as though someone else had spoken those words, not her. "I can't go back where it's safe, and just let them die here…"
It occurred to her to evacuate them, and bring them to a new home just through the Spiral door. They could follow her to Wizard City, and be safe there.
No, she thought, they would never leave their homes, knowing they could never go back. Their traditions and history mean too much to them.
She sighed mournfully. That was that, then. She would stay with them until the bitter end. The comet would take her, too, she decided.
"No, Becky. You won't die tonight."
A deep voice that she was sure she had never heard before spoke through the darkness as it settled over the land. Rebecca gasped at the sound and looked all around her, squinting through her tears into the faint twilight, but she saw no one who looked as if they had spoken to her. That, however, was only the tip of the iceberg of her confusion, for no one had called her Becky in many years. In fact, no one ever called her that, save for her maternal grandparents, the closest family she'd ever known. They couldn't be here… She hadn't seen or heard from them since she'd first found herself in Wizard City at the age of ten.
Just as she began to wonder if she'd hallucinated, the ghostly form of a man flickered into view, hovering before her like a sculpted mist. A magnificent, cream-colored aura surrounded the spirit, illuminating his surroundings. Despite his out-of-place appearance, however, there was something about this shade that made Rebecca feel connected to him somehow. She couldn't tell why, but those kind eyes, that strong face… Surely she'd seen them before… perhaps in a dream, one she'd had long ago…
"Becky, you need to leave this place," the spirit told her gently.
"But… who are you? And how do you know my—"
"Me? I'm a man who went off to war, never knowing I had a daughter to come home to… until it was too late. And you, you are a brave young woman who has saved so many lives so far. You need to get away from here quickly, before the worst happens. Go, now; Xibalba will be here in moments!"
Rebecca shook her head. "I can't go home…" she protested, tearful once again. "What right do I have to be safe now? I failed them, all of them. Morganthe's prophecy came true, and there's nothing I can do to change that. I was too slow."
While she spoke, the ghost sank gracefully into a crouching position so that they were at equal height, eye-to-eye. "Becky, you need to understand what's happened here. This is Morganthe's doing, not yours. You did everything humanly possible to help this world. None of this is your fault.
"What's more, you have someone waiting for you on the other side of that door. If you were to die here, he would never know what happened to you, or whether you would ever return. All this time, he's lived for the moment when you will. He needs you back desperately… and sweetheart, you need him, too."
The reminder that there was someone out there to whom she could run, someone she knew would never think badly of her, someone who cared more about her than the solid ground he stood on, gave her back a measure of hope. The spirit of her father, whom she had never seen before, had little need to convince her further to seek safety. A moment later, she stood, albeit a bit shakily, and made her way to the Spiral door. Clumsy fingers fumbled through her key pouch, searching for the key embossed with the image of Bartleby, the key to Wizard City. When she found it, a hot wind picked up behind her, and as the door began to open, a horrible rumbling noise spread throughout the Zocolo. Rebecca had barely made it through that door before a powerful blast knocked her over, and she fell forward onto the moist earth of the World Chamber while the door itself slammed shut.
Now dizzy from tears and exhaustion, she lay there helplessly until she felt a pair of gentle arms wrap around her. A familiar voice spoke her name again and again, and Rebecca let herself sink into sleep in those arms.
He was dead…
Dead, just like Rebecca's mother and father, except that Tristan's blood was on her hands… and no comforting words of Zinia's could ever wash it away.
She was guilty… and that was a weight she could not bear.
Traveling under a dark gray cloak to hide her conspicuous brick-red hue from the guards on duty, Zinia took every secret shortcut she knew of on her way outside to the barracks, where many in the Shadow Queen's military would be settling in to sleep. It had been a long day for two lower-ranking guards in particular, she knew, but this was a visit that couldn't wait until morning.
After sneaking swiftly through the gates and past the watch, she hurried stealthily to the small, cabin-like structure that was her destination. One secret knock later, she was allowed inside.
"Thank the stars you're here," Zinia greeted them in Mantean, throwing off her cloak and leaning back wearily against the now-closed door. She had come here many times in her life, but the trip had never been a safe one for her. Still, even now, after the Shadow Queen had recently demoted her to work as a mere servant for her act of defiance the day before, she was still a messenger – and an invaluable spy – for the Fifth Column.
"Zinia," answered the larger of the two young soldiers who had welcomed her inside, also speaking in the mantises' secret tongue, "what news do you bring?"
"The spellbinder…" Zinia began urgently, desperate to explain to them what had been troubling her, "she claims to be the hero we've been hoping for: in her words, an assassin here to take down the Shadow Queen. But from what I've seen, I can't be certain she—"
The younger soldier, whose eyes had gone wide with concern, interrupted her quietly. "Zinia, what did you see?"
Glancing at one of the high windows that hung along the far wall, she sighed. "She just seems so… inept. She's nothing like the warrior I'd expected. She's supposedly faced the Shadow Queen before, after all, and yet I'm having my doubts that she even knows what she's doing now that she's here. You'd think she'd have planned out her strategy better than she has." Zinia shook her head in confusion while her doubts spilled out from her heart.
"More than that, though, it literally hurts me to see her weeping about her duel with Tristan. She says she loved him. But then, why she would leave him in the dark about her supposed plans is beyond me. Didn't she know to expect conflict and tragedy the moment she set foot in the palace? It's a wonder the Shadow Queen hasn't had her locked up and tortured, the way she acts!"
As she fumed aloud to her confidants, Zinia refused to meet their gaze. Despite her words of patient comfort toward the human girl, she had secretly hoped they'd all be free within days of her arrival. But now, no such thing appeared plausible, and she had since been stripped of her pride, doomed to scrub the floors of the palace and be humiliated for the rest of her natural life. All for interfering a day ago.
Vez sighed and shook his head gravely. "So now, the Shadow Queen thinks she's won," he said, and Zinia despaired at the hopelessness that had overtaken his voice as well. Finally, Zinia looked back up at him, and was surprised to find that there was more empathy in his gaze than the misery she thought she'd heard. It was almost as if he were apologizing for what he couldn't have known to prevent.
"She has won, Vez… This new spellbinder was our greatest hope. Now what do we have to look forward to?"
Meanwhile, Krazz had become lost in thought, trying to work out where to go from the deep emotional quicksand in which they all stood. "Our greatest hope, yes…" he muttered pensively, perhaps to himself. "But perhaps not our only hope."
Several hours after Zinia had returned to the palace interior, Krazz lay awake, staring at the ceiling. He couldn't sort out his thoughts amid the darkness that poured in through every window, suffocating whatever minute traces of candlelight still burned in the barracks. He trusted Zinia and, of course, her judgment. However, the news she had brought that night was as close to unthinkable as any he had ever heard. Every hopeful rebel and spy in Khrysalis had pondered what their prophesized hero would be like, when she would appear, and how she would rescue this world from the Queen's hateful Shadow.
Yet now, all of their stories, their dreams, their hopes, seemed to wither in light of the truth: the hero they'd been sent was neither prepared nor eager for the history-making battle she had come to face. Nor, it appeared, was she able to win.
Weak-minded coward! Krazz thought, gritting his teeth while betrayal and outrage gnawed at him like gravel scratching glass.
Then, though, he sighed. Angry words won't free Khrysalis any sooner than that human will, he told himself without breaking the delicate silence that hovered around him. Even so, he couldn't let the thought go. As hard as the disappointment had hit him, he knew his older brother had been quite nearly crushed by the news, and Zinia's own frustration with it had been clear as well. What could he do now to ensure that Vez and Zinia still had something to hope for?
Just then, another thought struck him, making it a certainty that he wouldn't sleep at all that night…
The following day, Krazz went on as inconspicuous a detour from his normal patrol as he could, trying to piece together the puzzling concept of his discovery from the night before. To begin with, what he had worked out so far appeared more confusing than helpful. Already, he knew that to truly set himself apart from his brother and Zinia – and indeed, from all of their brothers and sisters in the Fifth Column – he would most likely have to do something to undermine the Khrysaline cause… or at least, to appear to do so.
Just then, as if on miraculous cue, a crisp yet distant crackle of thunder broke the silence that had dominated that lonely corridor only seconds earlier. Krazz shuddered instinctively, knowing what the sudden sound meant, but then stopped walking abruptly. His heart began to pound, and his pace resumed and escalated to a sprint.
He had to reach the throne room, and quickly… At last, the first stretch of road that would lead to victory had revealed itself.
He knew what to do, and it was now or never…
When he arrived at the doors of the throne room, he found Morganthe shouting threats and words of condescension at Rebecca as the girl took her seat, head hung low. "You'll learn not to be late to your lessons again, little brat, I promise you!" the Queen shrieked.
Krazz knocked firmly on the door frame, because even though the doors had been left wide open, one couldn't be too careful when entering Morganthe's presence uninvited. Bowing in well-feigned respect, he began urgently, "Pardon me, Your Ma—"
Morganthe turned at once to look at the speaker, her expression tense but otherwise unreadable. "What do you mean by this intrusion, mantis?" she demanded.
The sheer arrogance of her greeting was yet another lesson in the way she viewed her Mantean subjects, even those in her own military forces, but Krazz was determined to climb her hierarchy one way or another. He bowed low again before answering, "Forgive me, Your Majesty, but the Lords of Night have begun another verse of—"
"Silence!" Morganthe hissed suddenly, her eyes widening with anticipation. Indeed, the room and its occupants went so silent in the next moment that Krazz started to wonder if Morganthe was literally holding her breath as she strained to hear the ancient song.
"Yes…" she mouthed, her crimson-lined eyes widening eagerly.
Meanwhile, hope started to well up in Krazz's heart, but just in time, he kept a smile of his own from forming, for he knew, even in that moment, that this move was only the beginning. His plan was sure to require many more, and surely more difficult pieces before his kind, and his world, were free.
He bowed a third time and backed away, leaving the Shadow Queen to her "studies."
When Krazz finally entered the barracks late that night, Vez stood ready by the door, and he closed it behind them, eyeing his younger sibling impatiently. When Krazz only stared wearily back at him, giving no explanation nor even a hint of regret, Vez prompted him in Mantean: "You missed tonight's meeting."
"I'm sorry," Krazz answered with a weary sigh. "I'm afraid I was needed elsewhere."
"Where's 'elsewhere?' Couldn't it have waited until afterwards?" Vez asked incredulously. "Don't you understand how important these meetings are?"
"Well, if you insist on knowing the details, I needed to report to Her Majesty. And no, it couldn't have waited. It was an urgent matter, very time-sensitive…" Krazz added almost dismissively.
At that, Vez's gaze grew wary. Krazz understood; he had never referred to Morganthe with such respect when it was just the two of them talking. "So, what is this 'urgent matter' that absolutely had to come first?" he persisted.
As though bored by the conversation, Krazz explained simply, "She needed to know that the Lords of Night were starting to sing again."
"What?" Vez gasped. "Why would you want to tell her that? If she misses a verse of the Song, all the better for us!"
Krazz shook his head. "Brother…" he began quietly, but then he remembered that he was trying to push Vez away, and addressing him as brother was not likely to help him do that. Gathering what nerve he could, he said in English the one thing he knew would make Vez furious with him: "Whether we like it or not, she is our Queen. Perhaps it would benefit both of us to show some loyalty."
Krazz's assumption had been right. Vez's expression transformed quickly from confusion to horror to fury, and it was all Krazz could do to stand his ground. He was doing this for a reason, he reminded himself, one he must not abandon at any cost.
"Loyalty…?" Vez scoffed. His next words came out so quietly, swimming on a gasped breath, that Krazz could barely make them out: "Never in a hundred lifetimes would I have expected… you… to go Morgantine."
Krazz felt his heart pound in his chest at the accusation, for he knew that if he was ever going to make things better for the lot of them, he must prove it true. "I'm only sugges—"
"Suggesting what?" Vez asked angrily, cutting him off. "That we surrender what little hope we have left and submit to the darkest of Shadows? Because it sounds like that's exactly what you were trying to say."
"Vez, listen to me!"
"No! I won't hear of this. You want to talk about loyalty? Where's yours?"
"Mine? My loyalty to whom, Vez? To a handful of misfit rebels?" Then, suddenly, Krazz's breath caught in his throat, and he found himself unable to say another word. It had struck him like a spear through his steely façade that his insults were directed at himself, more than they were at his brother. He was already regretting his decision, and that was a mistake he could not afford to allow, at this point or at any other.
Vez's scorching gaze grew hotter still, and for a long, deafening moment, no words were spoken between them. Finally, he stepped forward and gave his youngest sibling a direct order: "Get out of here."
Immediately, Krazz turned and began to walk away. He tried to feel relief that this part of the plan was complete, and so quickly... but from deep within him, something cried out in despair. He knew it would be for the best, but in his heart, he felt like the traitor he had pretended to be. As he turned to the palace, he wondered whether this feeling of remorse was the curse that now plagued the spellbinder...
Even without looking back, he could feel Vez's eyes burning into him until he was out of sight.
Early the next morning, Vez found Zinia getting the dining hall ready for breakfast, and he approached her as casually as he could. He announced his presence to her in silence, picking up a stack of dishes from a nearby tray while she had her hands full with silverware. As soon as he placed one in its spot on the table, Zinia heard the soft clink of ceramics on wood and turned.
Relieved to see a kind face, she held his gaze, an amused smirk in her eyes. "A soldier, setting the royal breakfast table?" she quipped. "I can't imagine what that would do to your reputation." She took the plates from him, chuckling quietly.
Vez knew that laugh. She used it often, to hide from her allies that she was hurting inside. "Zinia," he coaxed her in Mantean, "I need to speak with you."
Zinia gave him a look, but responded in Mantean nonetheless. "Here…?" she asked him, surprised.
"They can't hear us talking, Zinia. Please," he implored her, placing one hand gently on her shoulder. "this can't wait."
At that, Zinia seemed to sense the urgency of the matter. "All right… what do you have to say?"
"I have to warn you… Something's happened to Krazz." In response to Zinia's worried expression, he added uncertainly, "I don't know. I can't figure out why, but he… he's changed. Last night, he was talking about how it would 'benefit' us to be more loyal to the Shadow Queen. A part of me still can't believe it was him talking, but I saw it all with my own eyes…"
It was out of compassion for Zinia that Vez stopped talking when he did. She was looking down at the table, her slender form quivering with what looked to him like rage. "What did you do?" she asked in an unsteady hush, still avoiding his gaze.
The question startled Vez slightly, but he answered it with little delay. "I tried to talk some sense into him, but he wouldn't listen. So I… I told him to leave." he finished grimly.
Naturally, he had assumed that Zinia's anger was directed at Krazz. He had been wrong, however, for the frigid aura that now revealed itself in her gaze was a sign he could never miss. "What?" she breathed.
Vez was startled, to say the least. He had expected the news of Krazz's change of heart to come as a blow to Zinia – or to anyone of the Fifth Column, for that matter – but her reaction, however subtle, suggested that there was something else involved here. Could it be he had already spoken with her, convincing her to submit to the Umbra Legion? Might this be only the beginning of an epidemic?
No! That's paranoia! he assured himself, blinking away the suspicion. I know what this is about. She's just coming to an ally's defense, or so she thinks. But Krazzik is no ally to either of us now…
"I know this is a shock," Vez said, trying to comfort her. "It was for me, too; believe me."
"What shocks me is how quickly you'd give up on your own brother! Need I remind you that you're the only kin he has anymore?"
Vez narrowed his eyes defensively. "He's the one who gave up on me… on us! If you'd heard him going on about 'loyalty to our Queen…' He dared to speak treason against the Fifth Column! In so doing—"
"Did he, really? What did he say, then? Tell me exactly what he said!"
"Just what I told you: he said she's our Queen, like it or not, and we'd better 'show some loyalty.'"
"That doesn't sound like him at all, Vez. Didn't it occur to you that it might not have been your brother talking?"
The question startled Vez, but he responded at once, albeit with less certainty than before. "What do you mean? Of course it was him." He shook his head slowly, trying to piece together what she was saying through the emotional strain that had overtaken him the night before.
Zinia sighed tersely. "It could have been an impostor…" she replied without hesitation.
"No, I'd know my brother anywhere. Besides, who in the Umbra Legion would willingly impersonate a mantis? You know what they think of us."
"Well, suppose he was under some enchantment, and didn't know what he was saying…" Zinia suggested.
Vez shook his head no once. "I doubt that with equal certainty. He was the same Krazzik in every other way."
Before Zinia could argue further, a large, midnight-blue spider hissed loudly in the direction of the door. "Enough chattering, mantisssses. Get back to work, both of you!"
Zinia hoped the arachnid would leave, but he simply stood there, glaring at them. "You heard him, soldier," Zinia sighed dejectedly in English. She could see what was coming – it had happened countless times before – and she didn't want him here to witness it. She wished she could leave, too, but she still had a hundred or so dishes to set out. Her task still needed doing.
Without another word, Vez made his way swiftly out of the room. As he reached the corridor, however, Zinia watched out of the corner of her eyes as he stopped and glanced sideways at something she couldn't see from where she stood. Further prodding from the spider forced her to tear her attention away from the mysterious occurrence, for she was in no mood to be humiliated yet again by the Morgantine elite. Hadn't Sakathe's silken trap in Zinia's bedroom been bad enough? No, of course not, Zinia thought to herself. I got out of that mess far too easily for them. They'll be wanting more torturous fun today, I suppose.
Just as she turned back to the table, she heard Vez mutter something angrily in Mantean. Curiosity burned within her as she understood the word "traitor." Had Krazz been listening from outside the room? He must have.
It pained her to hear her confidants so deeply divided, but there seemed to be nothing she could do. Vez, she knew, was as stubborn as anyone else with whom she was acquainted, and he was utterly convinced of this "act of treason." But perhaps, if she could manage to talk to Krazz…
"Quickly, mantissss! I don't want to hear that your hesitance has delayed breakfast…"
"Take it easy, Aranthis. I won't take that long. Besides, I work a lot faster when I'm not being watched."
"And fasssster sssstill when you remember to ssssilence your tongue!"
Zinia scoffed, glancing over her shoulder at the ugly creature. "Oh, is that why I've been made to do all this without any help whatsoever?" she asked, wearing her frustration openly. She set a plate down on the table so loudly that she was almost relieved that it didn't break.
Aranthis snapped his pincers at her, hissing threateningly, but for once, she dared to stand her ground. Defiance surged through her veins like boiling water, and in that moment, she could not have cared less if Aranthis were to bite her. But then, a voice sounded in the back of her mind, reminding her that she mustn't allow herself to be killed, at least on the off chance that Rebecca the Shadowhunter would one day return to her senses and defeat Morganthe, as the age-old prophecy had foretold.
Late that afternoon, Zinia was sneaking a few reagents from the palace's unkempt "garden" when she spotted Krazz at his usual post, guarding the palace gates. She narrowed her eyes curiously, noticing that, strangely, Vez appeared to be absent from the guard post.
She hid the reagents in a pouch of her own making and, leaving the so-called garden without a sound, approached him casually.
"I need someone to escort me to the dungeons," she told him coolly. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to take me there?"
"I take orders from Her Majesty, not her servants," Krazz stated, barely glancing at her.
"Oh, do you need a better reason to escort me there, soldier?" she asked, her tone cunning even as her eyes betrayed a hint of amusement. "I'm sure I could come up with something suitable."
Krazz shook his head in disbelief. "What?"
Zinia didn't reply; she merely held his gaze, her sarcastic smirk in full view, until finally, his straight face faltered, allowing a small smile through. Quickly, though, he replaced it with a feigned aggravated expression. "Why are you wasting my time, Zarozinia?" he growled, determined to convince her that he had changed after all. "I have more important things to deal with. Go bother someone else!"
Zinia twitched uncomfortably for an instant at the sound of her name. Her trust in Krazz was unwavering, but at the same time, hearing him call her by her full name made her wonder why he would go to such lengths to do whatever he was doing.
She decided to abandon her arsenal of jokes in favor of a more serious route. "I know you heard us talking this morning, Krazz."
Krazz rolled his eyes in apparent exasperation. "Oh, yes? You saw me there, right through the wall? That's amusing," he scoffed incredulously.
"I saw him looking down at you as he was leaving. Don't pretend you didn't hear what was said… or that you don't care." Without warning, Zinia took his forearm in a firm grip and pulled him quickly inside. Although at first, he struggled to break free, her pace was strong and swift, and for her sake, he quickly stopped trying to pull away from her. Silently, he followed her downstairs, not knowing why they would be headed for the dungeons.
Before they started down the last flight of stairs, however, Zinia led him into the corridor, turning a few corners before she found their destination, which turned out to be a boiler room. Krazz hurried inside after Zinia and locked the door behind him using a simple spell he'd learned years ago.
When he turned around to ask why they were down here, he noticed Zinia's expression and body language had changed drastically. Now, with no one nearby to hide the truth from, she watched him sorrowfully, her heart full of empty questions.
"Zarozinia…" Krazz muttered, barely audible over the loud noise of the magical machinery in the dimly-lit room. He had no desire to admit that she was right; even if they both knew she was. Deep within him, he cursed his foolish belief that Zinia would be as easily convinced as Vez had been. It had been yet another mistake on his part. "You shouldn't have done that, you know. I have orders, just like you do, and I can't—"
"I don't believe a word of it," Zinia interrupted, shaking her head. Krazz opened his mouth to argue, but she stopped him, intending to make it absolutely clear that she knew he was lying, and that no words of his were going to make her resent him. "I know you. I know you better than Vez does, if he could ever think this to be real. I know you'd never turn on us."
Krazz sighed heavily. He had gotten the message clearly enough, but he couldn't explain all of this to her, not yet. "Zinia, I can't—" he stammered, anxiety weighing on his voice. "You don't understand… No! You can't understand. Just let it be."
"Listen to me, Krazz! You and I, we will die allies. Whatever you're trying to do, we're in it together."
Emotions raced like wildfire through Krazz's mind, ranging from frustration to gratitude, panic to courage. It hadn't crossed his mind to let her in on the plan as it was forming in his head, but he knew she could keep a secret with invaluable credibility. She had done similar work in the past for the Fifth Column, but to do this, he knew, she would need to lie to the Fifth Column, as well as to everyone else. The question was not whether she could, but rather, whether she should. The other Khrysaline rebels depended on her, her reliability and her credibility. After all that had happened, he couldn't take that away from them. One of their best spies would have to appear to turn on them all, and… he just couldn't bear responsibility for something like that.
"If you really want to help me, then turn away, Zinia. Turn away from me, and act as though I really have changed. Give comfort to my brother. Don't let him think this is his fault. That will help me. Spiral willing, you'll see the full truth in the end."
Zinia's eyes went wide, and she did not hesitate to protest. "You want me to… to vilify you? I'm not go—"
Krazz interrupted her in the same gentle voice he had used before. "I need you to. There's no other way for you to help than by pretending."
Zinia seemed deep in frantic thought, her eyes downcast but clear. Still, Krazz persisted, lifting a hand to the top of her head to stroke her antennae tenderly, smiling when she leaned into his touch. He knew he would never sacrifice this moment to the passage of time; his heart would keep it, and her, safe. "But while you pretend, Zinia, promise me that no matter how long this takes, you'll never forget that I'm still one of you."
When Zinia looked back up at Krazz, he could see tears in her eyes. Lifting her hand to her heart, she answered, "You're part of me, Krazz. You always will be."
"Then promise me, Zinia."
"I promise," she vowed solemnly. "Your secret is mine to keep. Just… please be careful."
Krazz pulled her closer, touching his forehead to hers in a tender gesture of appreciation. There they stayed for many long moments, treasuring the feeling of closeness, the sensation of the other's breathing in time with their own. They savored it as though they might never see each other again, for as each instant passed, it became clearer and clearer that that might just be what the future held for them.
Without a hint of warning, the boiler started to rumble on. Neither of them had noticed that it had turned off, nor how long their voices had been left vulnerable. As if rudely awoken by the sound, Krazz pulled back, still holding Zinia's hands in his, and quickly scanned the area for signs of eavesdroppers. As soon as he was confident enough that they were not being spied on, he cast a sorrowful glance in Zinia's direction before darting away to return to his post.
He knew better than to mention the exchange to anyone, and he trusted Zinia to know it, too.
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