“When you told me that you would do whatever I wanted,” Hana said, shaking her head in a bemused way while Vondamisk just smiled back at her, “I had no idea that would include you risking your career-and your life!-just to save me.”
“Hana, Hana, Hana,” Vondamisk replied, shaking his head in turn. “You have no idea how important you are, do you? I admit that, before I met you, I figured all of the stories about your exploits were just propaganda. But after seeing what you did on Weblish, I knew that, if anything, the stories I’d heard were understated. You are truly the greatest hero Fangalin has, and for you to be sacrificed for one man’s ambition would have been a truly grievous crime.”
“Well,” Hana said, blushing slightly, “I’m certainly glad you feel that way, if only because it means I’m not likely to die today.” Everyone chuckled at this. “But I’m not sure what we can do against Ron. Unless you brought more than just the 4th Battalion with you?”
“Do you think I would lead an assault on the Great Hall itself with just one battalion?” Vondamisk asked, raising one eyebrow slightly. “I brought the entire 9th Brigade with me!”
“Now that,” Hana said, her eyes widening, “we can do something with.” She looked around at all the members of Starfengt, as well as Vondamisk and his troops, and tears filled her eyes.
“Everybody,” she said, her voice cracking slightly, “thank you. For all of you to risk your lives to rescue me… I can never truly express how much it means to me that you came for me.”
“Like Colonel Latrafai said, you are the heart and soul of Fangalin,” Xeliana said, taking Hana’s hands in hers. “Ven Ron is a usurper, we all know that. And if we want to be serious about removing him, then we need you. Anyone who truly believes in the mission of Fangalin will rally behind you.” She paused for a moment, and then she smiled. “Plus, you’re my friend. And I don’t leave my friends behind.” A hearty cheer rose up from everyone in the cargo hold at this statement. Tears of joy streamed down Hana’s cheeks as she looked around at all the cheering faces.
“Why are you people so determined to see me cry?” she exclaimed, laughing through her tears. Everyone laughed with her, and suddenly she was surrounded by people, clapping her on the back, hugging her, showing her how much they cared about her and how glad they were that she was safe.
After a few minutes of this, Xeliana announced that Hana needed to get some rest, and took her to her quarters. After making sure she had some food and water, Xeliana started to leave, but Hana insisted that she stay.
“I’ll sleep soon, I promise,” Hana said, as she could see that Xeliana was about to insist that she go to bed. “But I need to talk to you first.”
“Why? What’s up?” Xeliana asked, sitting down on Hana’s bed and looking concerned.
“I just…well, you gave me that speech on the way back from Weblish, about being someone I could trust and all that…and…well…for some reason…deep down inside…I didn’t believe it until now,” Hana mumbled, not making eye contact with Xeliana. Xeliana just looked at Hana for a moment, with no expression on her face, and then suddenly, without saying anything, she hugged Hana as tight as she could. For a long time, Hana just held on to her, sobbing silently, tears running down her cheeks. Then, finally, she let go and began wiping the tears off.
“I don’t know why I’m being so emotional,” she muttered. “It must be the diloxitin.”
“You bottle everything up inside,” Xeliana replied, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. “You try so hard to act tough, but you’re just as human as the rest of us. It’s okay to let that out once in awhile. Everybody who knows you already knows that you’re tough. You don’t need to prove it to any of us. And if anybody thinks you’re weak because they saw you cry, who cares? You know you’re not weak. Who cares what anybody thinks?”
“How did you get so wise?” Hana asked in mock irritation. “I’m supposed to be your commander. I’m supposed to be the one who gives you advice and takes care of you. Why do you always end up taking care of me?”
“Oh, Hana,” Xeliana said with a wistful smile, “you take care of me more than you know. Why do you think I’m so devoted to you? I wouldn’t lead an army into the Great Hall to rescue just anybody, you know.”
“I’m so lucky to have a friend like you,” Hana murmured, closing her eyes and slumping against the bulkhead.
“And I’m lucky to have you,” Xeliana smiled, “but right now, you need to get some rest.”
“I know, I know,” Hana grumbled, laying down on the bed. She slipped under the blankets, snuggled up into a ball, and closed her eyes. Xeliana pulled the covers up around her, and moved toward the door, but before she could leave, Hana said, “What ship are we on, anyway?”
“Fluttermask,” Xeliana said with a grin. Hana’s eyes popped open.
“Starfengt, the 9th Brigade, and Fluttermask!?” Hana exclaimed. “You really did loot the best of Fangalin for my sake.”
“So I did,” Xeliana said with a proud smile. “Now get some sleep. This would be a fine rescue indeed if you keeled over from exhaustion right at the end of it.”
“Yes, sir! Right away, sir!” Hana said with a mischievous grin. Xeliana rolled her eyes and gave Hana a rude gesture, which caused Hana to chuckle. As soon as the door slid shut behind Xeliana and the lights went out, Hana was sleeping more deeply than she had in a very long time.
To be continued…