At length, Mariana finally had to urge the reapers along. “Shenado...”
‘I know,’ the reaper said, turning heavily toward her. ‘We are out of time.’
Mariana breathed deeply and took a seat next to the hearth. She gazed into the fire therein. She’d lit it herself. She hadn’t sat next to an open flame like this in years. The crackling warmth summoned images of her childhood, of her humble parents, of their quaint home, of a plump mass of fur called Polly with those floppy ears and big, soft eyes. ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done for me,’ Mariana thought. ‘I never did say that enough.’
‘You never needed to,’ said Shenado, wrapped in the echo of privacy. ‘Do you have any last words?’
Mariana considered turning to her girls right then and telling them that she loved them. But she didn’t want to. She’d never liked saying it, which was perhaps a shame, because saying it now would only make things harder for herself. And for the girls, too, probably. And it didn’t really matter, anyway. Because they already knew. They had to. So she decided to hold her tongue. Instead, she thought, ‘For Zeff, if you ever see him again, tell him... I’ve decided that it wasn’t a mistake.’
‘What wasn’t a mistake?’
‘He will understand.’
Shenado nodded solemnly. She moved closer.
Mariana watched the fox’s claws reach toward her face. And as she felt her life leave her, she heard Shenado’s tremulous parting words.
‘Goodbye, my sweet girl...’
And the echo faded.
Chapter Eighty-Two: ‘Precious might, accrue now...’
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It was a nice change, being able to return from a night’s patrol without having earned himself dozens of blood stains and bullet holes. He’d been starting to run out of wearable clothes again.
“Welcome back, sir.”
“Oh, ah... th-thank you...” Hector stopped in the doorway to pull his dark coat off. He was surprised to find Jamal still awake at this hour. “You, um... you really don’t have to call me sir, Mr. Easton.”
The tall guardsman looked at him evenly. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I disagree.”
Hector frowned and tilted his head at him. “Why?”