"Aaron!" The young woman's voice rang out as she rushed towards him.

"Jess?" Aaron turned as she ran full tilt, nearly bowling him over in a hug "What the hell? You're...."

"Dead?" a familiar voice said behind him "Yes, we are."

Turning, Aaron found himself face to face with his father for the first time in many years. They stood in the middle of an open field. In the distance were other people enjoying the sunshine, sitting on blankets spread out on the ground or at picnic tables.

The last thing Aaron remembered was an island, near Talos. A conclave of Circle of Thorns mages had called a super-demon to the world to negotiate the entrance of another Demon, or maybe even a God. Thauma and Skida had gotten too close to the thing, and were about to be obliterated He had rushed it as a distraction and gotten caught. Looking into its eyes, his visions of his family had flooded back to him, and his sanity had snapped. Hanging on to enough of himself, he had whispered the name of the Demon, breaking its power, then the talons had pierced his chest.

"How? Where?" He couldn't clear his mind. "Thauma?"

"She's fine," his mother said, joining his father "You saved them. You saved a lot of people. I'm very proud of you."

Aaron sat down on the grass, feeling it beneath the palms of his hands. Jessica sat down next to him. She had been twelve when she died in the initial strike of the Rikti invasion. Now she was a full grown young woman.

"How are you so much older?" Aaron asked.

"Things work a little differently here," Jess said. "What you see is who I would have become if I had lived."

Aaron looked at his hands, almost as if noticing them for the first time, and noticed the feeling, like something missing.

"My eyes, are they..?"

Dad came over and put his hand on Aaron's shoulder. "No,
they aren't glowing anymore. You don't need your powers here."

"How do you know about that?"

"We know about everything," Mom said. "We have watched you grow, watched everything you did. We were always with you."

"You could see me?"


"How? How can that be?"

"Stop and listen for a second," Jess said. He listened to the sounds in the air, birds chirped in the trees, leaves rustled, and something more. Almost at the edge of his consciousness he could hear voices, someone talking.


"Yes," Jess said. "You can hear them talk to you when you try. You can see them if you try. Because you want to, because you loved them, there are people in the world you will always be close to, always have a connection with."

He dropped his hands into the palms of his hands. It was all so much, almost overwhelming.

"You've handled far worse situations," another familiar voice said. Looking up, he found a man wearing a simple white tunic with blue piping on it. His hair was short and spiked, a goatee covered his chin.

"Tropic?" Aaron asked.

"I was," Tropic answered.

Aaron stood and shook the man's hand. "You never called me for that beer I owed you."

"I will."

"Aren't we a little late for that?"

"They will call us back," Tropic said.


"We will be called back," Tropic said. "I lived for a long time, did a lot of things, met a lot of beings. Something tells me, something I know in every fiber of my being, that we will be called back."

"When? How?"

"I don't know. But I know someone will call us back, together. Until then, be with your family. I will see you soon."

Tropic turned and walked away, fading from view.

Aaron looked at his family, the faces that had haunted his dreams, that he had missed for so many years. Since the blast that had killed them, he had missed them every day. Something told him what Tropic had said was true, that he would have to leave his family again, but he also knew they would be with him, wherever he went. Whatever the future held, he would not let it ruin the time he now had with them.

"So," Jess said. "Tell me about Thauma Guard."
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