As Reza, Lamb and Neal Osborne headed back west towards the safety of their Citadel, Zoë Truman, Genevieve Pitney and her sister Gwendolyn went east towards their former home.  The denizens of the fortress city scattered to the four winds.  Those who had survived the assault, that is.  Its walls lay shattered and crumbling, its buildings burned to the ground.  The rebellion had fallen apart as Lamb had predicted, and now there was no one left on Earth to oppose the empire.  So complete was the revolution’s failure that there was no one to bury the bodies, the casualties of war were left on the battlefield to rot.

            Gwendolyn worried about Zoë throughout the journey.  She had seen her brother and cousin fight to the death, and no matter who might have won, she had seen someone she loved die on that snowy plain.  Zoë had seen all manner of sorrow in her life, Gwen knew:  her mother had died while the woman was still in high school, and in the years since they had all seen the world they once knew swept away in the maelstrom of chaos that had become the world they knew now.  She wondered how much more Zoë could take before despair took over.  She wondered that for herself as well.

            For once, Gwendolyn didn’t have to worry about Evie.  She was almost annoyingly happy, finding joy in sunsets and stars, trees along their path, and the occasional beetle trundling through the dirt.  It was as if she had been given the joy of childhood again, and she glowed like the only light in the darkened world.  Gwen was sure that it was because of Ethan’s sword, but she could not understand why it worked the miracles it did, and he had not had time to explain where it came from.  And now he was gone again, into the west.

            They trudged through snow-covered prairies, taking care to stay bundled up against the frost and biting wind.  When they reached the forests around Lake Superior the wind’s impact was lessened, but it was still freezing cold.  They stayed in abandoned houses wherever they could find them, burning old furniture for campfires.  They ate old canned food, and Gwen utilized the hunting skills she had learned in years on the run to nab rabbits on occasion, using snares whenever they stayed in one place for a few days. 

            After uncounted days of travel the trio reached familiar territory, and were astonished to find that the region around their hometown had changed little in the years of their absence.  The three of them were used to decaying and rotted out farmhouses, cities with streets choked by rubble.  Their town was undamaged, and neighbours waved at them with smiling faces. 

            “How is it even possible?”  Gwen asked as they walked their weary horses down the road to the Pitney farm.

            “Perhaps raiders never came this far east, and so they had time to keep up with maintenance.  I think it’s lovely.”  Genevieve said brightly, waving back at old Mr. McPherson, who still ran the farm one over from the Pitney place.

            Zoë was still riding her horse, slumped over from depression and exhaustion.  She had little to contribute to the discussion, she simply wanted to sleep for a month.  She had been silent for most of the trip, only speaking if asked a direct question.  Gwen and Eve had done their best to draw her out, but there had been little time for anything more than short conversations on their journey back.  The roads were not safe enough to stop for long.  Now that they were home, and seemingly safe, Gwendolyn hoped that Zoë’s mood would improve.

            “It’s so bizarre.”  Gwen said, “It’s like the rest of the world was hit by a hurricane and this place was the eye of the storm.  You’d never know that the outside was in chaos.  The wars, the illness, the starvation…”

            “It’s good to be home.”  Genevieve said.  “We’ll be safe here.”

            Gwendolyn shook her head.  Her suspicions fell on deaf ears now that Genevieve was an optimist.  She realized her sister and this place had something in common, they both seemed untouched by the world.  Pure, protected.  Something watched over them.

            Gwen began to wish that she knew more about where Ethan had been.

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