Heagen opened his eyes. Sky? He was looking up at a clear, blue sky. That wasn't right, was it? He sat up, confused. He cast his eyes around for a minute, memory flooding back into consciousness.

Image Credit: barbarian by ali-tunc on DeviantArt

After a few moments, two things dawned on him. First, this wasn't where he expected to awaken. And second, he knew this place. It wasn't the first time he'd been here. The buildings around it he didn't know. They had changed since his last visit. But the tavern he was sitting in front of? That, he knew. And knowing where he was, it became clear what had happened.

He stood and looked himself over. He stretched and bent and moved all around, as if trying to loosen stiff muscles. It was just a delaying tactic, though. Just something to clear the mind and mentally review the last few minutes of his... well, the last few minutes.

Another traveler strode up the street towards him. Even without the paladin's armor she was wearing last time he saw her, he would recognize this woman anywhere. Kylise. It had been 6 years since he'd last seen her and she was as beautiful as ever.

"Heagen!" she smiled broadly at him as she strode up and embraced him. Even though she stood a full foot less than him, she'd always made him feel small in comparison.

"I heard you'd arrived. I told you I'd meet you here when you arrived," she said as she took a step back and looked him over from head to toe. Then she turned more serious. "Are you here to stay this time?"

She always managed to leave him at a loss for words. There was just something about her. "I, uh, um, I hope not," was all he managed to sputter out.

She nodded, a knowing look upon her face. "Yes, it's quite serious I understand. Fate of the world and all that." She watched him for a moment, enjoying the fact that she was making him squirm a little. She knew how he felt. She'd always known. There'd just never been the time for them, before.

She smiled again, then grabbed his hand and dragged him towards the door of the tavern. "Come on," she said, "you need a drink!" He couldn't argue with that. And so he let her drag him along, enjoying the feel of her hand on his once more. It had been far too many years.

They strode through the tavern doors and she led him right up to the bar. Macc was there, same as always, two fresh drinks already lined up on the bar for Heagen and Kylise. He didn't need to ask how Macc knew to have the drinks ready. Of course he would know.

Heagen sat next to Kylise and without a word the two of them simultaneously tossed back their drinks. She slammed her mug down, empty, a good second or two before Heagen. He could never figure out how someone so small could put away so much drink. The only time she couldn't drink him under the table was when she was wounded nigh unto death.

He turned to look about the room for a moment. An eclectic mix, to say the least. But that was Macc. He welcomed all. You just needed to share in the love of a good drink. Creatures of every type littered the room: humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, orcs, goblins, and so forth. In one corner there appeared to be a drinking contest going between a dryad and a troll.

"She's drunk him under 'te table three nights running," Macc said as Heagen turned back to find his own mug refilled. "Are ye staying with us this time? Or just time for a couple o' drinks?"

Heagen noted that as Macc was talking, his eyes may have been on Heagen, but he was watching Kylise. Heagen tried to watch her out of the corner of his eye and thought he could see her form a brief frown on her face before her perpetual smile returned and she pulled her refilled mug back up to her lips.

"You already know the answer to that, Macc," Heagen said. "Better than I do probably. Unless..." he trailed off.

"Aye, lad, I know. But the choice 'tis yours in the end. And to answer your question: Yes, they survived. But they'll not be coming to call for ye until tomorrow at least. The lad Par will be needin' some time to prepare himself. So what are ye doin' wastin' yer time 'ere?"

Macc turned and grabbed a basket off the back bar and dropped it in front of them. It contained several bottles of various drinks, some cheeses and fresh baked breads. "Here ye are

Heagen stood, reflexively reaching for his coin bag only to realize he didn't have one. Macc just grinned. "Ye know there's never a charge for me and mine, lad. Off wit ye."

Kylise stood, grabbing the basket. "Come on, silly." Then she strode towards the door ahead of him.

The next afternoon found Heagen sitting with his back against a tall, lone tree in the center of a meadow. A bottle of ale in one hand, his opposite arm wrapped around Kylise, who was laying back against him.

"You don't have to go back," she said. "You could stay here with me."

Heagen could hear the hopeful tone in her question and he was glad that he couldn't see her face at that moment. His resolve might break if he did. He said nothing for a few long moments. He could already hear the chanting of his friend Par in his mind. Par had begun the ritual that would call Heagen back to life.

"You know I can't," he finally said softly. "Not yet. My friends need me. I don't trust to leave them alone with the masked one." After a moment's hesitation he added "It's almost time."

Kylise heaved a big sigh, then answered. "I know. I can hear him. You know how impatient I get." She grabbed his arm tightly in both of hers then twisted her head around to kiss him. "I'll be here waiting, when you're ready."

She kissed him again. "Now, my barbarian," she continued, "go save the world."