Letting the dreams leave


Jak was aware of a pitter-patter comfortably close. He was warm, relaxed, comfortable. He lay where he was and listened to the rain water tapping against the bedroom window. The only other sound he could hear was Keira's soft breathing. He opened his eyes, finding himself lying on his back and staring at a vacant spot in the ceiling. He looked to his left, finding the curtains closed. Pulling back his blanket, he walked over to the window. He drew back the curtains and was entranced.

Outside, water covered everything. The trees and grass had their colours enhanced by the wet sheen, buildings somehow looked darker; one of the statues in the square of fountains produced a waterfall out of the rain water. Most amazingly, the town was silenced. Jak had no trouble imagining all the people tucked up in bed, or wrapped in blankets on the sofa, staring at the rainfall. While the rain outside was in motion, time had no indication. He found himself surprised when a sleepy Keira called out his name.

Keira was surprised to wake up alone. She shuffled around in her bed a little, while struggling to open her eyes; once she did, she stared at the sight of her unclothed beloved staring out the window. He seemed entranced. Annoyance spouted within her briefly, she could not fathom why he was so entranced by rain, he had seen it before. But she froze. There was a certain look, the expression on his face...it was so reminiscent of his childhood self, who stared at the dancing fireflies in the forest or at the stars in the night sky or at the sun rising and setting. She sat up, pushing the blanket away, calling his name. Her tired mind could not understand why Jak was expressing such a feeling at that moment.

Blue eyes met her own. A gentle smile graced his features. "Have a look."

She shuffled out of bed. Unlike her beloved, she was wearing a nighty, which Jak normally enjoyed staring at. This time, he expressed no interest. He looked back through the window.

"Isn't this beautiful?"

Keira could only frown. "In what way? It's darker than it has been, a lot wetter; will be colder too. I was enjoying the heat the last few days, this is a real mood-killer."

He turned back to her, surprised. "But our plants need water. They'll get refreshed, the sun will come again. Right now, this city's so quiet. All the life and activity will come back in when the rains stop. It's like the city gets new life."

The mechanic sighed out of gentle nostalgia. Jak had always been the more patient, still child; she had been far too loud and active. Why I got into machines, I guess. "You had a good sleep?"

He flashed Keira a wide smile, lopsided as usual. "I slept great. Don't remember ever thinking this clearly, not for a while anyway." His features shifted, reflecting the sadness that overwhelmed him. "I've been a jerk to so many people. I have to make it up to them, all of them. Samos, Torn, Ash, you."

"Jak, you weren't thinking straight-"

"Keira, don't do that! I know I wasn't thinking straight, but I still did it. I still need to show them...I'm sorry, that I'm really sorry. And...I know...all this, everything I went through and did, it was hard on you. I did see that and I didn't want you to get hurt but..." He sighed. "I'm gonna be so busy the next few days."

Jak found himself in a warm embrace. He embraced her back, treasuring the feel of her.


Torn was trying to read a book. The book itself was interesting, but on this evening, like the previous few evenings, his stray thoughts kept distracting him. When trying to talk about his feelings towards Jak with Ashelin, the pair had found the both of them dissolving into rants and tirades against him. So the couple had chosen to only discuss business with each other. It meant that their shared free time was rather stony as of late. Ashelin was a rather active woman, who always took great satisfaction in completing tasks, so she was spending the evening doing a top-to-bottom house clean. Unlike a lot of citizens in Haven City, they did actually live in a house.

Torn was surprised when he heard the familiar rumble of his Firebat's engine. At first, he wondered whether he was hearing things. But Ashelin shouted at him that his Firebat was approaching their drive, adding her satisfaction that it had been properly repaired. He put down the book and strode to the front door, anxious to see one of his few possessions of pride and joy restored.

He opened said door, finding his restored Firebat in park, fully restored to its previous condition. He saw Jak climbing out of the driver's seat. Huh, only fitting. Torn had an idea of what the blonde was intending to do, but he had no intention of making it easy. He folded his arms, watching him sternly instead.

Jak looked up. Torn's stern look was making him nervous. He could not recall ever feeling so nervous around the older man. "Hi Torn, I wanted to bring this back to you, and say I'm sorry."

The veteran soldier's expression did not change. "That's it? You think you can get Keira to fix the Firebat, so you can just bring it back, make amends and we go back to before?"

The blonde frowned. "Keira didn't do a thing, I fixed it. She made sure none of the electronics were damaged, so I did all the bodywork. The seats, too." He sighed. "If you can't forgive me, I get it. I just wanted to say I'm sorry."

It was Torn's turn to sigh. "Why did you wreck my car? If it was something I said, I thought I was being reasonable."

"You were, but my mind was...I was messed up. I had another flashback, I got freaked out, then my anger rose up. I'd been doing that a lot, trying to conquer my fear with anger." Jak shrugged. "It didn't work, as you know."

Ashelin emerged from within the house. "If it's back, put it away! We can't keep this door oh-" At the sight of Jak, she froze.

"Hey Ash, I've got something for you too." He turned around, reaching for the pile in the passenger seat. Nervously, yet earnestly, he presented a red, velvet coat, adorned with yellow-golden borders lining the hem, the sleeves, the belt-line and along the shoulders. The baroness stared at the new coat, unsure how to react. Jak approached her slowly, stretching the coat towards her.

She took the coat, inspecting the size and material. One thing she noticed was that it had been re-sized to better fit her. She rubbed the familiar material between her fingers. "This is the old coat. You re-used the bits from the torn-up coat?"

The blonde shrugged. "One of the tailors gathered up the pieces. She said it was good material and a shame to waste it. I paid her for the new coat she made."

Ashelin stared at an empty patch of red, where it would cover her chest. "The Praxis Arms are missing."

"I didn't know if you'd want the old ones or a new set that I could present you."

The red-head stared at him evenly, almost as if she were testing him. "I want the old ones, if that's okay with you?" Jak nodded. She folded up the coat with a gruff sigh. "Dammit Jak! Ripping up the coat was a shock, but...I guess, knowing how you were, I should've known better and left it behind. Honestly, that wasn't what hurt. You were just...such an asshole! You embarrassed me right after making me afraid for my life!" Torn's glare grew harder, if that were possible. The blonde kept nodding at her words, repeating his apology. "Now you're sorry?" she mocked. "What stopped you from saying that in our office?"

Jak took a breath. "I always hated it when I had a flashback and freakout in public. I felt embarrassed, except, I never noticed my embarrassment, not for very long anyway. I just had my anger grow instead and I'd lash out. I never realised I had been hiding what, I, really felt." The looks of the couple he had hurt were no less harder. "You probably don't believe me."

"I believe you," Torn cut in.

"Is it fixed?" demanded Ashelin. "Your head clear? No more nightmares and flashbacks?"

Jak shook his head. "The last few nights, I slept like a baby." Unwillingly, half his lips curled upward in a bashful smile. "But uh, I'll still be seeing Yerran once a week for...months. She said no one's mind heals that quickly." His half-smile faded. Uncertain, he fidgeted. "Look, I haven't thought this clearly in a long time. Torn, I understand what you mean. I only think about my own life like most people would, but I have to think about everyone in the city. And I guess the Freedom Guards don't like me too much... I really need your help but I decided I don't want to order you two to do anything. We should all work as a team. So, I'll listen, I really will, just...tell me what I should do."

Torn considered the younger man's words. He inspected the young man standing on the ground below him. The Freedom League Commander was convinced the young monarch was not ready to rule, but he was certainly ready to listen and learn. It's a start. "This time you'll pay attention. You get to my office tomorrow, 0800. I'll give you the grand tour and you'll know what they go through to defend our city." The blonde nodded.

Ashelin gave her beau a sidelong glare. "Don't you have something else to say?" she demanded through gritted teeth. Jak watched in silent confusion as the pair exchanged a series of angry facial expressions. Torn was confused at first, followed by Ashelin being adamant, then he sulked, then she locked her jaw. Some gestures were exchanged. Jak gradually realised that Ashelin had originally defended him after he had wrecked the Firebat's bodywork. Such a revelation stunned him.

Torn sneered. "Alright, I admit it. I really wanted to get those thoughts off my chest but picked bad timing. We even?"

Jak's initial reaction was of jubilation: it was so good to know he wasn't the only one at fault! But he quashed this feeling; he wanted to stick to his newfound sense of responsibility. Outwardly, his eyes and mouth had merely widened, before he blinked them closed again. He shook his head. "It's not about being even. I just wanted to be honest and...make sure I didn't lose you as friends." He took out his Jetboard. "See you tomorrow."


Samos was sitting in the corner of the park. There it was very peaceful, one of the quietest areas in the entirety of Haven City, in fact. It came as no surprise to anyone that Samos chose to set up his home in one of the park's sprawling grounds, in one of the larger trees. At this moment, the Sage was meditating. He was trying to, at least. He was able to focus on his plants, make sure all of them were able to feed from the recent rain. After that, his thoughts turned to those worrying about his daughter, as well as the young man he considered a son.

"Hi Samos."

The Eco Sage had to blink. I must be old, I'm turning deaf too. He had not heard Jak approaching.

"I wanted to come and say I'm sorry. But I'm not sure just saying that is enough..."

Samos did not even twitch, he just focussed on Jak's voice, as well as the energy he felt in the younger man. The younger man was a lot calmer, in every sense of the word. He turned to the apologetic blonde, motioning him to kneel by him. "Saying sorry really is enough."

Adjusting his kneel, Jak searched his mentor's face with a frown. "It is?"

The Sage laughed bitterly. "I won't lie, what you shouted at me hurt. But the way you yelled at me, well, that's how a child yells at his parents. Do you know the reason a child takes out most of his frustrations on his parents?" The younger man shook his head. "It's because they feel safe with them, the child is certain they will never leave him. And...I'm sorry too, for prying so much, for over-worrying. I'm even sorry about the mistakes I made years ago, I could have done much more to find out your lineage. Instead...other matters distracted me." He looked at a point in the distance, staring wistfully at whatever had caught his attention. "You and Keira...you've always had your own little world. She's just moved away from me now, so you two have been more distant from me. I'm honestly feeling a little useless, as if I don't have a role in your lives anymore."

"That's not true! Why would you say that?"

Samos shrugged. "We didn't exactly talk much when we were in Kras City."

Guilt rushed through Jak. The events of the time had distracted him well enough, much like how the younger Samos had had much on his plate. "You know, with my father gone, we'll need you to stick around so you can be a grandfather to our kids."

"HOLY YAKKOW! Kids?!? Already!?!"

The younger man was forced to wave his hands in front of him in a panic. "No! No no! Keira's not pregnant! I swear!"

Samos took deep breaths, pressing his hand against his chest. "What were you trying to do! Scare me to death?"

Jak had to laugh. "We've been talking. I mean, being King means I have to plan, right?"

The Sage stared at him, breathing deeply. He eventually nodded. "Planning's good. Planning's always good. Just remember that plans can fall apart. But it's always better to have a plan."

The two of them spent the next hour chatting, catching up, reminiscing. Jak was even forced to talk about the offences he had committed against Torn and Ashelin, as well as what he had had to do to make it up to them. He even spoke about the impressions he got when Torn gave him the promised tour of the Freedom League operations. Eventually, Samos revealed that he had visited the prison to retrieve Jak's old scrapbook, which had been brought with them through the Rift Gate. The book was presented and handed over. The blonde felt many tears in his eyes as he flicked through the pages and stared at the collections of recorded memories.


Keira stared at herself in the mirror. Jak had simply told her to look her best for their date tonight. She knew he was waiting in the living room and could only wonder what he had planned. Her hair was up, her earrings dangled eagerly, her make-up seemed flawless. She smoothed out her royal green ball gown and wrapped the black cloak around her, to protect her against the evening chill. She opened the bedroom door.

She stared at a very regal young man, who stood proud in his dark slacks, the matching silver sash and jacket, with a crisp, blue shirt. He faced her, beaming while he bowed deeply. "My lovely Keira, you look absolutely divine," he said in his attempt to mimic various flatterers, as portrayed on television.

Keira giggled, obliging him with a curtsy. "And you look amazing in that outfit."

The proud Jak led her outside, to the waiting chauffeured Cruzer. The couple were driven to one of many smart buildings in the city, boasting themselves a quality venue for a night out. The particular place they were visiting specialised in holding 'dinner and dance' evenings, where guests were treated to a three-course meal before dancing to live jazz music. Keira stared around her as soon as they stepped in. The lights were dimmed, to provide a romantic atmosphere (she surmised). She noticed the clientele were somewhat older than they were, with only a few other people their age inside. The tables were immaculately set and the glasses were all polished to a perfect shine. She felt somewhat small and out-of-place, as this was not usually how she and Jak spent their time together. At the same time, the mechanic felt very flattered yet humbled.

At their table, the couple handed over their jacket and cloak to one waiter, while another poured them a bottle of wine. Once they were alone, Keira had to ask: "What's the occasion?"

Jak's response was a soft smile. "I'm treating you, extra special. This isn't what we normally do, but uh, I really wanted to do something that made you feel taken care of. You've done so much for me, been through a lot the past 2 weeks. I felt bad about putting you through that so...this is a start to making it up to you. I hope."

Keira felt no less uncomfortable. Deep inside, she knew that what she really wanted, for Jak to make up for all the strain she had been under, was for him to acknowledge the harm caused by his indiscriminate killing of Krimzon Guards, and for him to start making amends. On the outside, she attempted a smile, but it couldn't reach her eyes. She fully understood the sincerity her beloved had shown; she also knew that while he tried to act like he normally did, it was within their flat that his confident posture would sag and his real, somewhat fragile self would be exposed. Once or twice, she had tried to bring up the issue, but he had brushed it off, saying he was tired and trying to deal with more immediate concerns. At this moment, seeing her failed smile, Jak asked what was wrong.

She sighed. The last thing she wanted to do was ruin the night he had planned for them. Keira decided to reveal part of what made her anxious. "I just feel like I'm out of my depth. At least...at least about us. I mean, I was so happy, really happy, when after not seeing you for 2 years, you just walked into my workshop. But then I noticed how different you were. I...I questioned, if my fantasies could come true, those dumb ones where you'd give me flowers." Her smile grew wide. "That first time we kissed, you said you loved me, you looked like the boy I once knew. You weren't angry all the time after that, and I thought, that was it. You might talk about your time in the prison but, we were in love, you could be happy again, that would be it. Except for all those times you'd have to go off saving the world!" They shared a chuckle. The mechanic sobered herself before continuing. "I think, I started thinking about this a little some months ago. People were afraid of your outbursts and would complain about them to me. The last 2 weeks made me really question if love is really so easy. I love you, but I was so hurt and angered by you and sometimes scared of you. I'm only 17 you know, maybe we rushed things a little?"

Jak swallowed a large lump. He seemed less certain than a few moments ago. Shakily, he lay a hand on Keira's, massaging it tenderly. "Loving you is easy. Doing things that make you happy is easy. Making love to you is easy. The hard parts are...they're the times the other person makes a huge mistake."

"When you hurt the other person because you assume they'll just stick around for you," she added.

"And when you hurt the other person because you find out they don't agree with you."

"When both are not thinking the same way, having different thoughts and ideas, not acting the way you expected them to."

He sighed. "I want to work through all that. Move forward with you."

It was Keira's turn to swallow a large lump. She moved her hand covered by his, so that the pair could clasp their hands. She nodded. "Me too."

They shared a quiet few minutes, simply holding each others' hands in solemn solidarity. Once the starters were served (Jak had pre-chosen all their meals), their conversations were more light-hearted and casual. After dessert, they moved with the other guests to the dance floor to dance to the live jazz music. During the slower numbers, they held each other close. Keira could not remember the last time they had held each other like this: calmly and feeling safe in his arms. Jak was thinking along similar lines, feeling glad that his arms were wrapped around Keira in a protective embrace.

When they did leave, hours later and late in the night, they walked home, strolling easily through the empty streets. They said little. They felt no need to say more. They were happy enough to keep a hold of each other while looking around and above them. Once they arrived home, they remained quiet after closing their front door shut. They took off their cloak and jacket and...chose to look at each other, almost aware that this magical night would soon be over. There was a lingering feeling they wanted to keep...he leaned in.

Instinctively, Keira gripped and massaged his shoulders. His arms wrapped around her waist. She closed her eyes and sighed as Jak pressed his lips against hers. It was a long, slow, passionate kiss, similar to their very first. In such an act of bonding, she thought that perhaps, she could forgive Jak completely. Slowly, so slowly, he leaned back. They opened their eyes; blue eyes stared into blue eyes.

The handsome blonde laughed. "Um...this is kind of embarrassing." His bashful look was very reminiscent of his younger self, complete with the rosy cheeks. "When I planned all this I figured...I really thought we'd come home and get into bed, make love to each other." His look turned quizzical. "I don't actually want to do that, I just want to talk to you a little more. Is that weird?"

The marine-haired mechanic found this far more flattering than the idea of ending their evening with a romp in the bedroom. She grinned, shaking her head. "Not at all."

They chatted easily as they disrobed, changing into more comfortable nightwear. Before making their way to the sofa, Keira picked up a relatively large book that Jak had in his stack. This one looked at various palace designs, looking at what had been built and why, as well as the designs that were never built. The pair flicked through the pages together, learning why the built palaces, used by Jak's ancestors, were built in the styles they were, their aims and goals, or how the designs simply reflected the styles of the era. They started pointing out the elements they liked, what they would ideally have in their palace. Jak was surprised to learn how many palaces had been built from designs submitted in competitions, deciding that he would also like to hold a competition in Haven City (especially considering how many citizens desired to see a new palace, his thought was that they might as well design it too). Their discussion of their possible future home continued as they got ready for bed and climbed in, remaining sat up to study some more of the book. They read through and admired the designs, pictures and scenes of everyday life until they could not keep their eyes open; they switched off the light, the book was put aside. The young couple fell asleep in each other's arms.


Jak walked in to the abandoned barracks that the nomads called home. There were quite a few people about but the mood was calm and subdued. He noticed the various people looking at him; some in surprise, some non-plussed. As he walked along, it took him a while to notice that a morose figure was staring at him. He looked back, trying to work out why anyone would look at him like that. He then realised that he recognised the morose figure. The city's ruler slowed down, unwittingly staring at the morose figure as he tried to match the familiar face to a scene from his past.

In alarm, the morose figure hurried away, seemingly ashamed of something. Jak stared after the man running down the entrance corridor. He turned back around, still forcing himself to recall where he had seen that face. Suddenly: The lead scientist!

He whirled around, opening his mouth to call out something. The man had just turned out of his view. The younger man stood in his place; he started to wonder what he would have said, could have said. The realisation fully hit him that those scientists, who had carried out the experiments on him, must feel wracked with guilt. He felt sad for them; he considered the situation and realised, he honestly did not hate nor blame those scientists for the actions against him. He now just felt sorry for them; he had no idea how to ease their pain. With a sigh, he continued his journey.

The King entered the waiting room, impressed by how organised the place was. A grand desk was in the middle of the cube-like room, a play area for younger children stood in one corner, the large display screens dotted about the room displayed information about the facilities available, as well as announcing the next visitor to be seen. There were clusters of chairs in different parts of the room; some were occupied by relatives of visitors, others occupied by first-time visitors waiting to meet their assigned practitioner. Someone else had come in very spontaneously, for she appeared to be having a nervous breakdown. One of the nomads knelt in front of her, talking to her with soothing words. He held a cup for her, which he encouraged her to drink out of.

Jak approached the large, central reception desk. He gave his greetings to one of the occupants and provided his therapist's name and appointment time.

"Good afternoon, your Majesty," she grinned. "Yerran said she wanted you to see her in her office." She proceeded to provide the directions.

The young man thanked her and continued on his way. Behind the desk, he could either continue forward up the stairs, turn right or turn left. His instructions included turning left at this point, but curiosity got the better of him and he wandered to his right. It seemed there was a large gathering of people, most of whom were already in a spacious meeting room. At the moment, they were chatting and sharing drinks and biscuits, reminding Jak of an easy-going community gathering. What added to this impression was the sight of a number of children running around in the corridor, with adults or their parents lounging against the corridor wall and warning them to slow down. He watched the scene with a soft smile. Some of the children noticed him and...hardened. They regarded him suspiciously before running back into the meeting room, other children seemed rather confused by this. Jak then noticed some of the adults giving him dirty or suspicious looks. He responded with a blank look, completely unaware of the reason for such a reaction. Awkwardly, he shrugged and reversed his direction.

The corridor he wandered down had previously been used as dorms by more senior officers, hence giving the illusion of one wall being adorned by a line of closed doors, a line of windows along the other. They all had a large number adorning them, somewhat crudely, and a timetable pinned to the door. When he found the correct door number, he noticed that the timetable for the week showed the days and times used by different specialists from the nomadic group. Yerran was one of three names that adorned the timetable. He knocked on the door, entering when her loud, clear voice bade him.

Inside, the furniture had been re-arranged. The complete removal of a bed and the wardrobes made the room seem more spacious, with the desk and various shelves of books and folders taking up one corner and side. The remaining bed had cushions and blankets adorning it, intended to make the visitor as comfortable as possible. Yerran sat on one of two chairs. They exchanged pleasantries and, after checking the correct conduct, Jak chose to sit on the bed, shoes off and legs crossed.

Yerran's first question was to ask him what he had been doing during the week since their previous session. "Mending fences, mostly." He summarised what he had done to apologise to the three people he had hurt or offended. "I've been studying too."

"What have you been studying?"

"Torn kept his word and showed me around the Freedom League HQ. I already knew the layout, really, but he was showing me how the guards are organised, what they do, their goals. Main goals are to protect the city and serve...me. I still can't get around that, but he kept repeating it, to make sure I got it. Later I was in the office I share with Ashelin, at the Council Building. We were meant to have another fitting but it got cancelled. Councillor Turza came to see me anyway." Jak gave a rueful smile. "She wanted to apologise. I didn't get why but she told me: she expected me to know how I carry out my duties, how I'm meant to act, or think even. Except, she later realised I had no clue. Turns out she's a history teacher at the college. She knows all about the royal line...my family. She told me that children who grow up in palaces are trained their entire lives in...protocol, behaviour, their history and their duties. She gave me some books." Yerran's eyebrows raised in slight surprise. "They're really specific. One is about the typical lives of the royal family during various points in history, another describes all the ceremonies that have ever taken place. The third book looks at palaces built and designed. It's all really interesting." He blushed slightly. "Keira and I read through the palaces one."

Yerran nodded approvingly. "You have been busy. Was there ever a moment you found yourself thinking about your time as a prisoner?"

Jak frowned in thought. "One time...I think it was just one time. I thought about it a little, felt sad, then thought about something else. It's...easy now. A little, overpowering maybe, but I can stop thinking about it when I want to."

The elder quickly asked her visitor whether he wanted to read through the notes made the previous week. He declined, explaining that conquering his dark memories had made him less paranoid. He elaborated when asked about it. "It's like, the memories of being trapped trapped me today. And, being King of Haven City, that made me feel trapped too. I just, I didn't understand that I could negotiate a little. I've always followed someone else's orders, I never made my own decisions too much. So, I'm now in a position where I'm expected to make lots of decisions, except a lot of people judge. I still don't like that. But I focussed too much on my role, what others think. I didn't think about what I could do, or want to do...um, what's going on?"

The last question had been the result of voices being heard outside. Yerran wore only a stony frown, but she also seemed unsure. "Let me find out. Stay here."

He watched the elderly woman slip out through the door. He thought he had heard Pern's voice as the door opened and shut. The voices sounded like they were coming from a crowd, some words were clearly shouted. He thought he heard his own name at one point. Yerran then began addressing them. Curious, Jak crept to the door, trying to hear as much as possible. Yerran must have been standing quite close to the door, as he could hear her voice clearly.

"Speaking frankly, you have all come here under an emotional strain. You claim you wish to speak to Jak but you have no plan. Is there something constructive you wish to gain from confronting him like this?"


Yerran's harsh lecture had driven the voices to silence. Jak leaned closer to the door, convinced that chatter was beginning again but unable to hear anything resolute. He heard some voices pipe up again. They sounded demanding, but he could hear few words. He felt desperate to know who it was outside and what they wanted with him. He quickly grabbed his shoes.

The door opened and the young King of Haven City stepped out. Everyone silenced. His roaming blue eyes scanned them all, landing on a few of them every so often. Jak recognised the familiar faces; he had seen them gathering in the communal hall when he had entered the complex. There was a pair of unidentical twins, one clasping each side of their mother, staring at him warily. Their mother seemed grief-stricken. A younger child stared up at him searchingly. Other adults glared at him accusingly.

"Who are they Pern?" he asked without facing her.

The young girl seemed alarmed, almost as if a secret had been discovered. One of the male nomads supervising the group spoke instead. "Your Highness, all of these people are members of a support group. All of them have known or been close to a member of the Krimzon Guards, who were killed during the waning days of Praxis' regime."

Anxiety darted in his stomach. Jak instinctively knew what came next, but he felt the need to ask anyway. "Who killed them?"

The nomad sighed. "You did."

He froze. His head instantly drained of blood. There's no way I killed that many. He forced himself to look through the crowd again. He assessed how many of them stood in the crowd, how old they were, trying to figure out the relationship. The children in attendance were clearly offspring of the guards killed, a number of the people were surviving widows, older people were parents, others might have just been additional relatives and close friends. They stared anxiously, voices firmly silent. They're afraid. It seems he had killed so many after all. They're afraid of me? But he had been so convinced that no one missed the killed Krimzon Guard members; no one had ever spoken of grieving for them. "None of you ever said this before. No one talked about grieving for a Krimzon Guard."

"It became taboo!" growled an upset man. "The first law the Council ever passed was to ban any sort of statement supporting the Krimzon Guards and Praxis' regime, that included anyone who wanted to grieve for a killed member and no one could ask for compensation." Jak must have worn a questioning look, because the angry man then gave a lop-sided smirk, or huff, and said, "No, it wasn't under you, it was under Ashelin."

"It didn't help that most of us didn't know the real cause of their deaths," said a woman quietly. "I was told my brother had been killed in an attack by the Underground. I only found out this year it was you. I didn't even know you were an Underground member, I thought you were just a hero that came out of nowhere and took the spotlight as a racer." During his days as a fugitive and a rebel, Baron Praxis had kept it quiet that a prisoner with Dark Eco powers had escaped. Jak had only appeared on wanted posters after he had acted as an Underground member.

Why did it matter if it was me or another Underground member? thought Jak bitterly. Looking around, he settled his gaze on a man's face. There was something familiar about his face. He noticed the man wore a Freedom League uniform. That used to be red. The blonde became angry. "I know you. You were one of my jailors. Why the hell are you so pissed off? You got to zap me everyday!" That guard had been unmasked the day he had smashed the monitor in his cell.

"And you think I enjoyed it?" challenged the Freedom Guard.

Jak gritted his teeth. "Why wouldn't you? You dragged me everywhere like I was some monster. Sometimes you looked down on me after I got chained up, or restrained. After I smashed that screen you just zapped me!"

"So we're not allowed to defend ourselves? You were half-transformed and you were about to rip me to shreds! My partner too!" He narrowed his eyes. "Deny it, I dare you."

In all fairness, the former prisoner couldn't. "And those other times?"

"You were classed as a dangerous prisoner. Most of us didn't believe it when you arrived, you were just a kid, it was a miracle you lived that long. But then you started to lose it." The guard stepped forward. "I knew about the carnage you created before most of these people. I was there when you escaped, when you slaughtered at least 20 of my friends and co-workers. You weren't transformed much of the time but you fired that gun like crazy and enjoyed it! I'll never forget, how badly I pissed my pants and hid in that hatch, praying to the Precursors you'd never find me, while hearing the screams and shouts as you threw them, shot them, broke their necks!" Jak remembered doing this very clearly. He also remembered how clearly he had enjoyed inflicting this carnage. Now he felt sick. "So I think you can understand, how much of a sick joke it looked, when you, a mass-murderer, became saviour of Haven City, hero that saved the world and then, finally, the long lost prince of the royal line. Almost no one believed me when I said you'd freak out again. But you did." The guard showed no satisfaction in his accurate prediction.

Outwardly, Jak stared at the Freedom Guard blankly. Inwardly, he felt weak and queasy. He was unable to dispute anything the guard had said, he remembered every action described perfectly. He remembered the thrill in being able to toss and maim the guards after being incarcerated for so long! But until this point in time, he had had a perfect justification for his actions. Now he felt the opposite. The former prisoner swallowed, preparing to say...what? What could he say? For some reason, the guard's look softened, becoming a little overprotective even.

"Did you hate my Dad?" asked a small child's voice anxiously. Jak looked behind him, finding that the boy of the pair of twins had emerged from the crowd uncertainly. The boy pleaded with him with his eyes; he clearly could not understand the situation he was in. Jak felt for the boy. He had felt the same sense of loss and confusion when Damas was killed. The blonde shook his head stiffly. In one way, he was revealing the truth; he had truly never hated the boy's father. "So why did you kill him?"

Jak blinked several times. What could he say? He wore a mask like the rest of them, I couldn't tell them apart and I didn't care. I killed him to get to Praxis. He would certainly not say that. "I was...angry, I let it control me." He wondered how much he should tell the young boy, but he felt the child deserved at least the truth...even though he would be too young to understand it. "I didn't see the Krimzon Guards as people," he admitted in a thick voice. "I was hurt, I wanted revenge, and if those guards were protecting something, I killed them to get to it."

The boy's pleading look did not abate. His mother, however, broke down in tears. Her weeping was accompanied by others doing the same action.

"I hope you're proud of yourself!" snapped an angry woman in a different part of the crowd. She stood with her arms crossed, glaring at him. "You hurt this many people! Because of revenge? Was it worth it?"

Jak shook his head weakly in response to the challenge. "No. It wasn't. I'm sorry." Those words sounded pathetic and hollow in his ears. Others must have thought so too, as they scoffed in disbelief. "I'll...I'll help you somehow, I'll..." This time, he allowed pure instinct to overcome him. He submerged his anguish and regret into the overwhelming presence of his Light Eco self. This form seemed to frighten half the crowd, who stepped back; the other half stared in fascination. He focused, summoning his healing energy. He was unsure how effective this would be, as he had never managed to spread this ability to others, but he did not allow this uncertainty to doubt him. He spread his hands and produced blankets of healing white light, shining it over every distraught, grieving and angered face. He seemed to spread just enough healing energy, as the Light Eco visibly calmed them. Jak reverted to his usual self. "Just a token." He addressed Yerran, who seemed emotional herself, but moved, as if she had witnessed a miracle. "I have to cut it short." In response, she bowed her head reverently. Pern only just then noticed her grandmother's unusual behaviour.

The king took her bow as his cue to leave and strode purposefully along the corridor. His fast-beating heart only gradually slowed down, as he could hear some people behind him laughing in relief. (Not in disbelief or mockery, the laughter was light-hearted and cathartic.) He marched straight through the reception area and towards the entrance, ignoring everyone that he passed. He wracked his brains, thinking of how best to atone for his past actions, thinking how best to make it up to these people.

Once outside, he stopped moving. He remembered reading about some of the past monarchs, who had made a public apology through some sort of ceremony. Resolutely, he brought up his communicator.

"This is Talia," answered the young woman's voice uncertainly.

"Talia, this is Mar," snapped Jak in his most commanding voice. "You have any plans you need to keep today?"

"Um...no, Your Highness."

"My office asap! And prepare to organise a funeral!"

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Written by Ruth Hüneke 2013

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