25. Into the Sunset

The music from the Wintertide Festival’s Closing Ceremonies had already started before Enoa left the tarp-sealed remains of Treasures from the Clouds to the Sea. She held her aunt’s staff in her right hand. She wore a heavy cloak, embroidered with the symbols of old Nimauk but woven from modern techniques from layers of wool and synthetic material. She’d strapped her hiking backpack across her shoulders.

This was only a small fraction of the belongings she’d packed for her adventure. The rest had already been stored in a series of crew lockers on the Aesir.

Enoa enjoyed her last walk down High Street. She’d spent little time in the remains of her home. So much was gone, removed, destroyed, but she eyed the other familiar shops; Mr. Alberty’s bakery, the candy store, the ice cream parlor, the fortune teller. Enoa took last looks at the towering hills, high above her.

“Almost done saying good-bye?” Orson greeted her a block from town square. Even at that distance, the sounds of the closing ceremony could be heard, murmuring, chattering, a low buzz beneath the distant echo of the amplified music.

“I am.” She breathed in the air of her home, her only home. “I don’t feel as sad as I expected, but I’m afraid if something happens to me and I didn’t take the time to properly say good-bye to everything, then I’ll have, I don’t know, been dishonorable.”

“I kinda get that.” He adjusted his coat so it billowed softly in the wind. He was dressed in his full regalia, repulsor boot shining, fire sword over one shoulder, his coat sewn back together, the new repairs joining the multitude of scars marking the dangers of his travels. “Usually I just think of people I knew, when I’m in danger.”

“At this point, I think I’ve talked to everyone I know.” She thought through a mental list of her friends, those people she would miss. “I treated Megan to brunch this morning and she was the last I needed to see.” She nodded and began walking further down the street, toward town square, to the Aesir.

“Megan’s the one you stayed with this week?” Orson walked at her side.

“Right.” She nodded. “We’ve been friends since third grade. She stayed with Aunt Su and me after her folks passed away in the Thunderworks attack on Philadelphia. She’s letting me store my truck and all my stuff at her house, until I’m back.”

“Good friend,” he said. “You know, you don’t have to come with me. I’d swing by after this is done and bring back everything, everything relevant to your Aunt or to you, if there’s anything…”

“Orson,” she interrupted and halted their walk to the park. “I’ve decided.”

“Okay.” He nodded. “Great! Well, I hope you worked up another appetite because I still need to get my post death-battle pancakes, and I know just the place.”

“If you two don’t get a move on,” Sheriff Kelly Webster walked up the street toward them, appearing from somewhere in the mingling crowd at the foot of the hill. “The sun will be long gone for the night, by the time you get to riding off.”

“We’re ready.” Orson shook the Sheriff’s uninjured hand.

“Mary Young asked me to give this to you.” Webster drew a small envelope from her pocket.

“Mary Young?” Orson took the envelope. “I don’t think I know a Mary Young.”

“She was the parking lot volunteer the night you got here,” Enoa reminded him.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Why would she have anything for me?”

“It’s your change. You overpaid for parking,” Webster said. There was a brief note written on the envelope. It read: change for owner of camper-boat.

Enoa laughed at Mary Young’s absurdity and at the natural quirkiness of so many local Nimauk townspeople, individuals she would not see for a long time, if ever again. A lump formed in her throat. Maybe Webster saw this, because the Sheriff offered her a one-arm embrace.

“Take care of yourself,” Webster said. “Don’t let this one lead you into trouble.” She gave Orson an expression that was mostly friendly.

“Well.” Enoa readjusted her cloak. “It is my inheritance that’s letting us do this.” She smirked. “So I think I’m leading.” She struck a pose, pointing the staff out toward the horizon.

“You have too much energy,” Orson said. “I wonder if I made my friends feel this old when I was the kid starting out.”

“If you’re already feeling old,” she said. “Maybe I should be the one leaving you behind.” He slowly shook his head.

“Safe travels.” Webster stepped back and regarded them both. “I hope we cross paths again on the other side of whatever you’re headed to do.”

“Maybe I’ll be back for next year’s Wintertide Festival,” Enoa said. “Then I can share all of the ridiculous stories I’ll have by then. New legends that aren’t hundreds of years old!”

“I think this town already has its fill of new stories.” Webster said. “Actually, after the Sight-Stealer business, we aren’t having a Wintertide Fest next year. It’s being reorganized as a new event, but we’re not so sure yet what it will be.”

“I hope I’m here for it.” Enoa turned back to look on High Street, taking a last glance at the place she’d seen every day she could remember.

“So do I,” Webster said.

“They’re here!” Someone in the assembled crowd shouted at them. And suddenly that one voice became a cacophony of voices, all yelling and cheering at them.

Orson smiled and waved back. Enoa waved politely, as well. Webster rolled her eyes.

“What did you tell people was happening now?” Enoa shouted above the crowd.

“They know they’ll get to see us fly away.” He led them down the hill as the sounds of all assembled fest-goers grew to a deafening roar.

This roar fell away when the music started. It wasn’t loud enough to silence the crowd, but the tune was one almost everyone knew. This was “The Thrice-Parted Home”, a song of melancholy hope, repetitive, but tuneful – one of the few melodies that was genuinely Nimauk in origin. There were voices and an odd, eclectic mix of instruments accompanying them, high woodwinds and guitars and bowed strings. Enoa tried to stand on tiptoe to see the festival’s stage. She saw many shapes up there, like every musician hired to perform in the last ten days had joined forces to work together.

The gathering played more songs, those hundred-odd musicians. Enoa truly did not know all the words or even all the titles, but the music transported her somewhere far away, to the perfect Nimauk of her childhood, a place that only existed in song and imagined memory. Enoa fought tears. For the first time since the mad battle with Tucker and the Liberty Corps, she faced the enormity of the road ahead and her uncertain future.

She couldn’t dwell on that. Orson led them forward. The crowd parted for him. The music continued as they walked, processed through the crowd, through the festival, Webster just behind them. Orson shook hands and offered greetings to dozens of people as he walked. Enoa engaged with the crowd too, but mostly her friends, and her acquaintances, faces she might never see again.

When they reached the foot of the stage, they shook hands with the remainder of town council, Amaren, Blue, even the newly reappointed Georgie Lawson, Tucker’s replacement, as well as the battered remains of the Sheriff’s Department. When the music ceased, all eyes turned to the departing heroes.

“I’ll be right back,” Orson told them. He ran to the front of the stage. Enoa watched him go. For the first time, she got a clear look at the assembled performers. Her earlier assumption had been right. The film orchestra was present, along with half a dozen folk bands, local musicians, fiddlers, guitarists, pipers, and at least one of the late night jazz combos, all pressed together on stage, scattered between large electric heaters.

“Thank everybody, for me.” Orson handed something to the orchestra conductor, a tall woman in a heavy black jacket. “You’ll make sure the recording gets to me, right?”

“Where are you going?” A male voice came from the inside of a realistic astronaut costume. The costumed festival guest maneuvered his way through the crowd and stood beside Enoa. “More adventures?”

“Eventually,” she said, not totally sure where they were headed next.

“We’ve got a couple quick pit stops to make.” Orson rejoined them. “We’ve got some supplies we need to buy, some parts.” He shook hands with the astronaut. “Hey, great costume.”

Before the astronaut spoke again, new music started, something no one at the festival had heard before, something no one anywhere had heard before.

“My theme music!” Orson turned away from the crowd and faced the stage and watched as the motley musicians began to play the new work. There was wild percussion, blistering lines in the woodwinds and strings, and a heroic brass melody straight out of the now gone Hollywood. The folk musicians had also joined in, strumming at interludes. There was even a bald, bearded electric guitarist, rapidly fingering along with one of the violin parts.

“You really hired them to play your theme song?” Webster approached them again and raised one eyebrow.

Shhhh.” He waved at the Sheriff. “I’ve been chased out of enough towns to know you only get so many opportunities to ride off into the sunset with fanfares and cheering. Plus, I’ve been trying to get my theme music played for four years now.”

“Theme music?” Enoa asked.

“Yeah, I had a memoir that almost became a movie and my biographer also composed some music for it… Ugh, the less said about him, the better.” Orson surveyed the musicians, most moving furiously. “But he outdid himself with this. I mean, wow. This is gonna go to my head, for sure. Now, let me listen.”

The unfamiliar music bought Enoa time to regain composure. The new sounds had no nostalgia for her. This music sounded like adventure and heroism and all the things she hoped awaited her.

When the music ended in a last victorious chord, the crowd applauded and Orson offered one of his two fingered salutes. Enoa bowed. She bowed to her town and her home. She waved good-bye to Sheriff Webster and Deputy Nesta, the town officials, and the costumed crowd.

The two wayfarers turned away from the stage and rounded the side of the train station. There, by the railing and the cliff’s edge, waited the Aesir. Orson led her aboard. They stowed their packs and belongings in lockers, sealed tight. Then Enoa buckled herself into the shotgun seat, looking out at the Nimauk River.

Orson fit his bizarre legged key into the ignition. The Aesir came to life. He backed the camper into a tight arc that pointed them toward the festival. Then he flipped the long lever beside the steering wheel. Enoa felt the kick under her seat.

The Aesir floated from the ground and flew up above the assembled crowd.

Just then, Orson’s theme music, The Wayfarer March”, began again, even louder this time, competing with the ship’s machinery and the yelling crowd. The music sounded grander now, a moment of triumph usually found only in fiction, made real by the many musicians and the magic that had recently affected everyone in earshot. The whole valley echoed with the sound of new legends and adventures yet-to-be.

“Should we give them a show?” Orson set his hand on a dashboard lever. He pulled it back before she could respond.

With a new roar of machinery, pale blue light emanated from the energy cores in the rear of the ship. Enoa’s restraints dug into her, and the camper blasted into the distance. Orson guided the Aesir forward, and the strange flying ship rocketed over the Nimauk valley, the river, the forested snow-capped hills, and on towards the horizon. The music was still playing, the drums still echoing through the hills, when the Aesir flew off into the sunset.

* * *

Duncan pulled the astronaut helmet from his shoulders as soon as he got to the top of Settlers’ Hill. Captain Maros waited for him there, on the same overlook hideout Orson and Enoa had used on the battle night, ten days earlier. Two dozen or so remaining Liberty Corps troops also stood nearby. All others had been arrested or run out of town during the festival confrontation.

“What did you learn?” Maros stared toward the open western expanse, the miles of snowy trees, frozen creeks, and the iced remains of American society. He was staring in the direction the Aesir had departed. He’d watched its blue-glowing engines blast away, watched his quarry elude him and rocket off toward the impossibly distant horizon.

No, not impossibly distant. Maybe not.

“They’re definitely headed for supplies first, somewhere relatively local, I’d guess, although it’s hard to say what nearby means when you have a flying camper.” Duncan approached his old friend, hoping to stand close enough that he could talk to the other man without the rest of the Corps encampment hearing him. “I think you should rethink your plan. This operation in town was an overreach and, Kol, I take some responsibility for that, but this didn’t go well. We’re losing half of our remaining budget on legal fees. We have the full Hartford Division itching to invade here, just to rescue Goes. If you lose the support of Montauk Command, they just might…”

“Did you learn what type of supplies they’re looking for?” Maros interrupted.

“Kol, you can’t be serious.”

“If they get away with this, we’re both done.” Maros turned away from the frozen distance for the first time since he saw the camper fly away. He looked Duncan in the eye. “You know that. We can’t go back empty handed. The Barony might actually move our division into the city. Do you think we’ll be in charge then?”

“There’s more to consider than being in charge.” Duncan genuinely whispered for the first time. “We could’ve been totally destroyed here. As it now stands, we have some plausible deniability. Gregory won’t be here to testify. We have information to share about Master Nine. Let’s cut our losses and go home.”

“If we go home we’ll be sweeping floors for men like Goes.” Maros clenched his teeth.

“We’ve only got a year left in our current commissions. There was a time when the Corps was our best chance to make a difference but…”

“Duncan.” Maros inhaled through his nose in a long slow motion. “Did you learn what supplies Captain Gregory is looking for?”

“Replacement parts.” Duncan shut his eyes. “Also, and this is probably worthless, but Gregory’s been talking about pancakes all week.” Maros nodded and drew his radio.

“PACS Teams Seven through Sixty-two, this is Captain Kolben Maros of Newtown Division. I am in pursuit of an aircraft. Assistance requested. I’ll have my telegraph operator send you the details. Standby.”

“We don’t have enough information to pursue them.” Duncan pressed his face into his free hand. “Even with fifty-some teams, how could you possibly hope to find them?”

“They want food,” Maros said. “They won’t go far, and there aren’t many places at night anymore where you can buy food and supplies. Once we have visual confirmation, we can be on them in minutes.” He switched his radio to another channel. “I’ve sent the scouts to the supply depots within two hundred miles and put out an APB to our allied communities. I’ll be meeting you in an hour. Have your fighters ready to launch, at a moment’s notice.”

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