It was the same as always now. Waking up alone, eating some stale breakfast alone, barely having the energy to even do anything... alone. All alone. It had been that way ever since they had left for their mission. But it was worse now. It was a loneliness that he knew... wasn't going to get better.
It could never get better. Rayla was a ghost. It had been by chance that he had seen her the first time. There could be more visits where he simply missed her. Unable to see or hear her. The girl that he had cared for for the majority of her young life. The little girl that had once tried to braid his hair, only to be unsuccessful time and time again, until he suggested showing her how as they both braided Runaan's.
He froze, hands stilling from their work. He had been doing nothing but work. Making weapon after weapon, etching designs into metal. He focused on nothing else. But now he had let the memories slip into his mind again. With them came the fresh feeling of tears.
Runaan. His Runaan. His moon. Gone.
He sat in his chair and put a hand to his mouth. He stayed there for far too long, trying to control his emotions. They rarely stopped once they began. It had to run its course. It wouldn't end a second sooner.
Once his breathing got somewhat more stable, he stood. He couldn't do this every time. It wouldn't change anything. All he could do was hope that Rayla remained safe. Or... at least alive. That was all he could see. He wished he could help her more. Protect her somehow. But he was no warrior, and he couldn't break the spell that kept him from seeing her. So he couldn't do anything but watch and wait.
He stepped to his window, looking across the pool just like he did everyday. So long as there was one lotus floating on the water, Rayla was alive somewhere. Being brave and doing it almost all on her own. But today there wasn't one lotus on the water today.
There were two.
It was impossible. How could there be two lotuses. All the others were dead. Gone. Permanently. Who's lotus could that even be? Had he messed up the spell? The metalworking? That couldn't have been it. He never made a mistake on the lotuses. He would remake it entirely if there was a single flaw. It was too important to leave a flaw.
It was foolish. Beyond foolish. He was seeing things. But he was certain there was a second lotus. But who's? He had to know who.
He ran to the pool, unable to help himself. It was impossible. It had to be a mistake or an illusion or just his own mind tricking him. There was no other explanation. He shouldn't hope for anything. This was just a trick due to the reflection of the moonlight. Nothing more.
But he had to be certain.
He knelt beside the pool, staring across the water. Each lotus was unique. He had made sure of that. A different colored gem. A different pattern within the petals. Each flower as distinguished as the life behind it. He knew each them. The names and faces of all that were represented.
He saw Rayla's, always floating above the water. The soft blue light of her crystal pulsing along with her heartbeat. The small ripples in the water matching her breathing. Alive and safe.
But the other lotus was harder to see. The light was faint but present. The ripples along the water were slow and uneven. As if someone was struggling to breathe. But whose was it.
The lotus almost seemed to float closer to him. Slowly. Allowing itself to be seen more clearly. That's when Ethari saw it.
The gemstone, the intricate pattern, the small symbols of love hidden throughout swirls and magic. Each one had been unique, but Ethari had made that one special .
No. He couldn't let himself hope. He simply couldn't. It was impossible. Runaan was... Runaan was dead. He had watched Runaan's lotus fall under the water. He had watched Runaan take his final breath right here at this pool. There was no way this was possible. Runaan couldn't be --
Runaan was alive. He had to be. Ethari would have never allowed Runaan's to be flawed and malfunction. There was no way the lotus could be wrong . The metalwork had been careful and flawless. The gemstone had been chosen and cut for no other. The spell had been careful and perfect. It was impossible for it to make this sort of mistake.
Tears began anew, but they weren't from the endless sorrow. No. These tears came from a feeling he didn't know how to define. Perhaps it was joy. Perhaps it was a relief. Perhaps it was hope. Whatever it was, it was overwhelming.
He reached forward, and the lotus floated slowly closer. Impossibly gentle, he touched the edge of the metalworking. He could sense that the spell was still intact and working. He could feel the faint pulse of a heartbeat.
"After all these years," he said, quiet and with a small, impossibly fond smile, "you still find ways to surprise me."
He stared at Runaan's lotus as tears continued to fall. Even if this was somehow a trick, he was glad. He could hold on a bit longer even as the loneliness tried to crush him. Even if it was a trick that Runaan was alive, he had to hold out for Rayla. She needed him. Runaan would too when he returned.
"I expect you to keep your promise, my moon," he whispered, as if he could speak directly to Runaan's heart, "I'll be waiting."
He could probably wait forever, so long as Runaan was there in the end.