It had been a hard day, with her teenage son pushing and testing her at every turn, the transition from boy to man making him surly, aggressive. He had been through so much- they both had- that she tried to be patient; but today had worn her ragged.

     Once he’d gone to bed, she went wearily to her room, opened a chest by the foot of her bed, and carefully pulled out a faded linen shirt. She held it to her face, breathing in deeply and imagining it still held her husband’s scent and warmth in it.

     “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.  He’s so angry, Aitrus. Your son is filled with rage and pain that I can’t seem to ease. Maybe if you were still here, maybe if he had something besides vague memories…”

     Ti’ana sighed, and curled her body around the shirt, letting the tears flow down her face. She tried so hard not to cry, not in front of Gehn, not in private, but tonight she felt rawer than she had in years.

     “I’ve made so many mistakes, Aitrus. So very many mistakes. I was taught to act from compassion, to see everything around me.  And that cost me you. It cost us our home, our family. It cost D’ni everything.  If I’d just kept my mouth shut, if I’d just let them execute the poor, misguided fool…”

     “What have you done, mother?” Gehn’s voice came out of the darkness in a growl, his eyes narrowed in accusation. She hadn’t heard him approach.

     “I was nine when you took me from D’ni, mother. Just nine. But I remember it all. The earthquake, the strange cloud that killed people as it passed. I remember grandmother dying, and father being ill. I remember that you said the D’ni were all dead.”

     Ti’ana could only nod silently, caught off-guard by the memory of her son’s small face looking up at her in that moment, wide-eyed and crying “No, mother, no!”

     Forcing herself back to the present, she looked up at her son. His face now had his father’s furrowed brow, the same look of concentration Aitrus would have when puzzling out a problem. The sight wrenched her heart, and she pulled the shirt closer, whispering to herself, “He is so like you…”

     His voice was all confused child now, as he sifted through his own memories. “There was fire, and people yelling and screaming. That man took us away in a boat, and he hurt you. Then I was pounding on a door, and you were there, but father was gone. And then we came here.” He looked up at her, bewildered. “How did you make the ground shake, mama?”

     She closed her eyes, clenching the shirt like a talisman. Another choice, another mistake to be made. How much would this one cost her? In the end, she could not lie, not directly, to her son. Drawing in a deep breath, she began to speak.

     Ti’ana told her son everything, about Veovis and A’Gaeris. Told him about the plots and the bombings, how Veovis had stood accused, and was to be executed. How she had spoken for Veovis, despite all he’d done, so that his life would be spared.

      She told Gehn about the earthquake and plague,  the dark revenge A’Gaeris and Veovis took on all of D’ni. She spoke of the carts of the dead, the bodies Linked through to spread the plague to the Ages.

     Her voice sank to a whisper as she spoke of how Veovis redeemed himself at the last. And how his father, dying of the plague, sacrificed himself so that A’Gaeris would fall, as well.

      Gehn stood silent through it all, his fists clenched by his side. When she finished, he stood there, body trembling with suppressed emotion, taking deep, gasping breaths.

     “Veovis and A’Gaeris made the plague.”

     Ti’ana nodded, and opened her mouth to speak. Gehn silenced her with a slash of his hand.

    “Veovis had money, resources… he gave these to A’Gaeris because of you.”

    “Gehn, listen, A’Gaeris was using Veovis, twisting his thoughts…”

    “NO! Even if Veovis was tricked, he still was the one who made it all possible! And you convinced the council to let him live!”

    “Yes… Yes I did.” she agreed, feeling the weight of his censure added to her own self-doubt.

     Gehn stared at her, his eyes growing dark with hatred, and fear.

    “Father is dead because of you. EVERYONE is dead because of you! My friends! My school! My grandparents! Everyone died because you wouldn’t let them kill one man!”

     Ti’ana fell back on reason and logic. “That’s one way of seeing it, but Gehn…”

    “QUIET!” he bellowed, lunging towards her with fists raised. She fell back, startled. Even at his angriest, he had never raised a hand to her, never struck her.

    “We came here, and we never went back. How do you know they are all dead? People would have escaped to the ages! If father really did stop A’Gaeris, they couldn’t have found all the Ages!”

     Ti’ana let the shirt fall to the bed, and threw up her hands. “I was one woman, with a child! My husband was dead! What did you want me to do? Go tromping through Ages with you, on the off chance we might find someone?”

    “We could have done something! When I was older, we could have tried!” He leaned against a wall, as if trying to keep his balance. She could tell he was fighting back tears, so she forced herself to speak softly.

    “No, Gehn, we couldn’t have. I went back once… do you remember when the Spanish trader stayed here with you for several days? I went to D’ni to gather some tools, some things to make our life a little easier here.  It was empty, Gehn. Lifeless. There was no one there, nothing. If there had been survivors, they would have come back.”

     Gehn shook his head in denial. “That’s not true. Why should I believe you? You’ve been lying to me all this time! You’ve kept me here all my life! You wouldn’t even let me apprentice with the traders to learn, to see more of the surface!”

    “Gehn! You’re part D’ni, what do you think would happen if the traders knew?” She took him by the shoulders and shook him. “Think, Gehn! See the Whole!”

    “The ‘Whole’?!” Gehn laughed, and it was so without humor, so full of hate, that Ti’ana cringed. “The Whole is that you dragged me up here to live a half-life in a crack in the ground, when I could be living a whole life as D’ni! I could be learning and Writing Ages like father did, but you were too scared to try and find any other D’ni who might have survived! Too afraid they’d find out what you did!”

     He thrust his finger at his mother’s face, rage in his every movement. “You’re too human to understand what D’ni truly was, mother. But not me. I know what D’ni was, and I am D’ni enough to understand that there is nothing, nothing more important than bringing D’ni back to glory!”

     Storming out of her room to his own, he began shoving things in packs and bags. Holding a hand out to stop him, she begged, “Gehn, what are you doing? You can’t just leave!”

    “I can, and I am, mother. You stay here in your cleft with father’s ghost, and the memory of your act of destruction. Stay here in this hole that isn’t the surface, but isn’t underground, either, just like you’ve tried to make me. Not surface, not D’ni. A Who-man, just like they always called me.”

    Shoving his few books into a satchel, he yanked on his boots, and opened his own chest at the foot of his bed. Reverently, he pulled out a length of pale blue cloth. Ti’ana choked back a cry as he shook it out.

    “Your father’s guild cloak! How did you…?”

    “I packed it, when we were getting ready to come here. It was the only think I could think of to keep. And I was sure you’d be angry, so I hid it.”  For a moment, his eyes were filled with tears, and Ti’ana reached for him, but he shoved past her, swirling the cloak over his shoulders.

    “I was right to hide it from you. You would have taken it from me, like you’ve tried to take everything D’ni from me. You can’t keep my father’s heritage and people from me anymore, mother. I’ll find them, and I’ll raise them back up, as they are meant to be. And we will never trust surface dwellers again.”

    She watched as he climbed the ladder and disappeared over the rim of the cleft, tall and strong as ever his father had been, but oh so full of rage and pride. Hugging herself, she went back to her room, retrieving the shirt from the floor, and holding it lovingly in her arms.

   “So many choices, Aitrus, my love. I can’t regret the ones I have made, because they brought me you, and Gehn.”

     Folding the shirt, she placed it back in the chest and sighed.

   “Choices make change. Gehn has made his now, and I don’t know what will become of our son, Aitrus. I just don’t know.”