AFTER RATIME, she finally allowed herself to part from him.

“I don’t get it, though,” Alex said. “Why didn’t they activate their lifelines and escape?”

“A few of the men did — the ones back out of the way. Vendis and Cain feared to try.”

“Why would they fear to try to vanish and escape?”

“It’s not as simple as you make it sound. It takes a moment of concentration to do it. It’s not long, but for an instant when they would be doing it they would be totally defenseless and vulnerable. They obviously feared to stand there naked to our blades and bullets for that instant for fear we would have had them. They’re also used to being in control and killing others at will. They had confidence that with their numbers they could get control of the situation.”

Alex sighed. “They were wrong. They underestimated you.” “They underestimated both of us,” she said, “but they especially underestimated a person from this world without their abilities.” She laid a hand on his chest. “I made the same mistake.”

“You did what you had to do. You were fighting for life.” Alex smiled as he touched her face. “I love you and you’re safe. That’s all that matters to me.”

Jax looked around at the carnage. “We need to send them back. We need to let everyone know that Cain and Vendis are dead.”

“If you activate their lifeline won’t their bodies go back to their people, to their side?”

She nodded as she wiped her nose on her sleeve.

“What about the Garden of Life in your world?” Alex asked. “Who controls that place at the other side of the gateway?”

She looked up at him suddenly. “We do.”

“So if we send them through the gateway, they will go to your side instead. Then everyone on your side will know of the victory won here today.”

She blinked. “Well, that would be wonderful, but. . you mean you can really make the gateway work? For real?”

Alex smiled. “Of course. Isn’t that why you came here? All that Law of Nines business?”

“Yes, but. . I don’t understand.”

“I did what was needed to open the gateway, but I only did part of what is necessary to make it work properly. I think it has a fail-safe.”

“How would you know about that?”

“About what?”

“A fail-safe. Things of magic, things that are dangerous, usually have a fail-safe. Radell Cain thought that the fail-safe was your blood, the blood of the one named by the Law of Nines. But sometimes a more subtle fail-safe is integrated into dangerous things so that only the right person can use it.”

“Well, this fail-safe is pretty simple, but I guess that sometimes simple things are the best.”

Alex took her hand and led her to the stone where he had put the knife to activate the gateway. She slipped her arm around his waist.

“Look here,” he said.

She frowned as she looked down at it. “It’s a drawing of trees. It’s kind of like the picture you gave me. It’s something like the Shineestay place you painted.” She trailed her fingers across the drawing. “Except that this one has all the trees.”

“And how many trees does it have?”

Jax touched the trees as she counted. “Ten.”

“And if I’m the one named by the Law of Nines, how many do you suppose it ought to have?”

She puzzled up at him. “It should have nine. It has one too many.”

Alex nodded. “For the gateway to work, for the one named by the Law of Nines to activate it, for his blood to work, for it all to ring true to the fail-safe, one of the trees has to be removed, just like I removed one in that painting I gave you.”

Jax was frowning in earnest. “How are you supposed to know which one to remove?”

“Easy. You take out the one that doesn’t fit the composition.” Alex laid a finger on one of the trees. “This one spoils the composition of the drawing. It doesn’t belong. An artist would know that. I knew it the instant I first saw it. Radell Cain didn’t see it because he wasn’t really an artist. The Lord Rahl who put this there was.”

“You mean to say that if that tree is erased, the gateway will function?”

“I’d bet my life on it.”

Jax looked around. “Then let’s send them back. Let’s try it.”

Together the two of them gathered up the bodies and piled them in the center of the sand. The white sand turned red as it soaked up all the blood still running from the corpses. They laid the bodies of Radell Cain and Sedrick Vendis side by side on top for all to see when they arrived.

Alex used his thumb, wetted with his own blood from the cut on his arm, to erase the tree that didn’t belong. When it was gone, he slid the knife into the slot.

With a thud to the air, the light instantly ignited above the sand, sparkling around the pile of corpses. The bodies vanished in a blink. No fading away, sparkling swirls, no nothing, just gone. The sand was again white.

Alex and Jax looked at each other. All of the blood from the men was gone off them as well. All that remained was their own.

Suddenly alone, they looked into each other’s eyes for a moment before coming together in an embrace and then a kiss that was filled with joy and relief.

As they sat together close under the soft light coming in from above through the open roof in the center of the room, she said, “You really are Alexander, defender of man. You were true to your name.”

They sat in silence for a time, just letting the peace and quiet settle in as they held each other close.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he finally said.

Jax, her head against his shoulder, glanced up at him. “You do?”

Alex nodded sadly. “You’re thinking that your part isn’t finished yet. You’re thinking that you are the defender of your people.”

A tear trailed down her face. She swallowed as she looked away from his eyes.

“I wouldn’t love you, Jax, if you were willing to abandon them without at least preparing them for you to leave them on their own.”

Her smile returned. “You wouldn’t?”

“No,” he whispered.

“You understand?”

He nodded, having difficulty finding his voice. “Even though it will break my heart to have you gone from my world, I understand that I have to let you do this.”

She laid her hand on the side of his face as she rested her head against him. “Only for now. I promise it will only be for a while.” Her lips trembled as she held back tears. “But I have to go back while we have the chance you have just given us. You’ve saved our world, if we act quickly. I need to see to it that we use what you have just done to make sure we strike while we have this chance to end it.”

“I know,” he said as he looked away, unable to bear it.

She reached up and turned his face down to look at her. “I swear, Alex, I’ll be back as soon as I can. My life is yours now. Even if I’m not here, I’m yours. Now and always.”

Tears ran down his face as he kissed her, never wanting it to end.


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