Even without the horizon, time went on. As if the adventure hadn’t been an important part of their lives.
The ranger knew better. There was something about how it all ended that had never sat right with her. Going back home had been their only option, then. It was what she had wanted. The others too. The ranger wondered if that was really the truth. Or maybe it was all they could stomach after every choice had been torn from them. Leaving it to the monk was a choice, but it didn’t really leave them with nothing.
Finding the monk again had been harder than she had thought. Social tracking had not been her most utilized skill, but she gained some good experience this time in doing so. When people had set her in the right direction, when she had been placed on the mountain in question, her own talents finally shone. She headed up the slopes and found the only trail, buried in a late snow, which led to the once abandoned temple.
The monk’s work was obvious. The temple had a long way to go, but the monk had cleaned it up quite a bit. Without help, the ranger reckoned. She scraped her boots off on some rock before ascending the front steps.
“This is some ways from your prairie, ranger.”
Somehow the monk looked the same as she did before. The ranger shook her head, looking down with a wry smile. “Good to see you too.”
Slowly, the monk smiled back. “Care for some tea?”
“You have tea up here?”
“I am no slouch in preparing myself for the winter, my friend. Even when it lasts.”
The ranger followed the monk inside, to a small room which felt much warmer as an enclosed space. She settled on the shelf near a large basin and the monk eventually handed her a cup.
“I’ve missed you.”
It was not difficult for the monk to say that. She had always been the most honest of them all. The ranger didn’t know if that had anything to do with her religion at all. “It’s been odd, actually. I’ll admit I enjoyed having a human at my back.”
“Has it been hard without the deer?”
The ranger nodded. “I miss her most of all. She was old. I just wished she could have lived out the rest of her days at the edge of the forest.”
Their adventure had taken quite a few things from them all, let alone a satisfying conclusion.
Swallowing the rest of the tea, still hot, the ranger set the mug down beside her. “How about you? Preparing your mind and body still?”
The monk nodded. “A lifelong goal. How else can I better the world if I haven’t bettered myself?”
“How can you better the world when you’re so separated from it?”
The monk shrugged. “That won’t always the be the case. By the time I’ve internalized what my journey has given me, this place will be ready for visitors. This temple is not only my safe haven.”
The ranger did not follow completely, but also didn’t doubt the monk’s words. Staring up at the ceiling, she shut her eyes for a moment.
“You are here about the horizon.”
The ranger opened her eyes. “That obvious?”
“No matter how much you missed me, you wouldn’t have come all this way for anything else. It has been on my mind too.”
For a while, both women were quiet. “We missed something.”
“Obviously,” said the monk. “We knew that when leaving. What else was there to do?”
“No. I saw the barbarian.”
At that, the monk did look surprised. “He came to your prairie?”
“He didn’t know it was where I was. He didn’t see me. I almost didn’t recognize him. It was like he was a different person. He was a different person. I couldn’t approach him. Something… something is wrong.”
The monk shook her head. “It has been years, people change.”
“Our quiet barbarian? Barely would speak. Strong and calm? The charismatic leader of a band of assassins.”
The monk said nothing.
“He wasn’t who we thought he was. Which means who knows what he was capable of at the horizon.”
“You believe him capable of destroying the horizon.”
“I believe there was more going on there. I don’t know what. I do know that now I can’t leave it be anymore.”
For a while, they both sat in silence. Finally, the monk finished her tea. “You want me to come with you.”
“I need to finish the journey we began. I need an answer. What do you say, leader?”
The second tea cup was set down.
“Do I have to be the leader this time?