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Yours All Along (The "This Ring Will Guide Me To You" Reunion)

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Is it possible fall in love with someone overnight?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. You might not ever see her again. Your young friends--your citizens, you think with a rueful smile, you are their Mayor, after all--anyway, they told you that she brought you here for help and healing, before flying off to fight the Sovereign Slayer, the Rebellion Crusher, the Mayor Almost Slayer.

(You ought to have been the one to fight him, you think, after he’d murdered so many of your compatriots. But perhaps she had a vendetta of her own.)

Of course, the first time you saw her wasn’t that day as you flew past her on your strange flying cylinder, Mendicant to your Vagabond, pushing her cart full of metal pyxis across the desert. It wasn’t even that day on the Battlefield when everything fell apart. You’d seen her from afar dozens of times. Derse and Prospit were at war, yes, but even in wartime the mail still needed to be delivery. The Parcel Mistress and her Dersite counterpart had shared a special kind of immunity in the pursuit of their duties and the single white carapace in a sea of black was unmistakable, especially with her height.

You sometimes contemplated composing a letter to someone in order to have an excuse to talk to her, but who would you write to? Your fellow pawns were right there with you and writing a letter of complaint to the monarchs, no matter how well earned, would have got you thrown into a dungeon cell. You thought about it anyway, but if you got thrown into the dungeons you wanted it to be for something more than paltry hatemail.

Something like going A.W.O.L.

Your farm had been small, but it had been yours. Worth risking the penalties of desertion for. And no one seemed to have noticed, you’d only been one pawn among many, after all. .Especially once the battlefield had grown from a plane to a cube to a sphere and so many more pawns had been sent to contest over the newly revealed territory.

You ought to have known that your peaceful, pastoral life could have never lasted.

Or the rebellion.

But perhaps it would have, if not for Noir. You don’t know, you’re not the Seer of Time, you can’t see into doomed timelines--the only reason you even know what a doomed timeline even is is thanks to the human Knight and his uncontrollable compulsion to ramble whether or not there is anyone around to listen to him.

(Both Knights are like that. You’re not surprised they eventually became friends.)

That night--has it really been three years ago?--might not have been the first time you’d seen her, but it was the first time you spoke to her. She was so passionate, so eloquent--she made you care as much about the mail as she did. And although she treated you and the Regulator turned Renegade largely the same, there was something in the way that she smiled at you that made you think that maybe-- maybe--

You had a ring, once. Golden, with four little balls like the planets that orbited Skaia after the battlefield had become a torus. You’d thought to give it to her as a token of your esteem. Maybe, just maybe, as a wedding ring.

It was gone when you woke up here.

Just as well, you think. She’d been named queen of your little exile town. If you’d married her you would have become king.

God, do you hate kings.

You aren’t a king, though, You’re the Mayor and as the Knights have so excitedly informed you, you’re soon to be Mayor of more than just one asteroid. You’re almost to the new universe, the new session. A new Prospit and Derse as you understand it. New royalty. New Noir.

A new you, perhaps. A new her.

You find that thought disconcerting and it’s perhaps just as well that one of the Knights--the shouty one--is there to grab you by the arm and drag you to the surface of the asteroid.

And there she is. The Parcel Mistress, the Peregine Mendicant, the Prospitian Monarch. The canine shape she wears--disquietingly like Noir’s when he punched a hole through your abdomen--is different than the elegantly tall, almost bishop-like figure you remember, but the eyes are the same, even if the smile isn’t.

She’s beautiful still, heartbreakingly beautiful.

“The others,” you say, hardly daring to raise your voice higher than a whisper. “What happened to them?”

“Noir killed them,” she says and her smile falters.

Of course he did. You don’t know why you ever thought otherwise.

But you’re alive.

And she’s alive.

“I missed you,” you say.

“I’ve missed you too,” she says.

You smile at her and she smiles back and you realize, suddenly, that you’re crying, that she’s crying too, and you wonder what your citizens are thinking, you the pawn turned Mayor, her the elegant Purebred Monarch, both just standing there, smiling like a pair of idiots. (A pair of Drolls? No, that was a special level of idiocy that you could never aspire to.)

She makes the first move. She tackles you and if you’d ever met any actual dogs (and not prototypes) perhaps it wouldn’t have startled you so much when immediately after knocking you to the floor she begins to lick your face. But she does and after a moment you breath out slowly. It’s really not so bad once you get used to it, though part of you hopes that maybe you might eventually get a proper kiss someday.

But even if you don’t, she’s alive and you’re alive and that’s enough for you.

You notice, finally, the glimmer of gold on her finger. Closer inspection reveals it to be your ring, the one you lost so many years before.

“You’re wearing it,” you say, dumbly. Then, “Why are you wearing it?”

She shrugs her shoulders, then smiles mysteriously. “It’s a secret.”

One of her tentacles is stroking your cheek. Your entire abdomen feels inexpressibly light.

You take the hand with the ring and bring it up for a kiss that lingers past your original plans of a brief brush of mouth against carapace.

“It was yours all along.”