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After the council meeting, Ian's mother was in tears while his father tried, rather unsuccessfully, to hide his long face. Even his sisters cried at Ian's side.

"You have barely arrived home," Aleena groaned as she hugged her son, "how can you be leaving already?"

"I will complete this mission and be home so quickly you will not even notice my absence."

"I recall something similar said at the start of the hunt for Argos, and that took decades." Aleena sniffed and wiped her eyes.

Jorah patted his wife. "It will not be that long, my love. It can't be. Surely the time is soon coming when the cure will be used, or perhaps now, there will not be one."

Aleena gave Ian one more hug, then stood straight. "Come along, my daughters," she said as she pulled them from Ian's side, "We cannot be so selfish as to wish our happiness over the lives of others. Ian will be back soon, and be bringing his little bride with him."

"I hope so, Mother," Ian said, "There is still some discussion—"

Aleena stepped to Ian and fussed with his clothing. "She will come. How can she turn such a wonderful man down?" She gave Ian a watery smile. "Go on now before I fall apart again."

Later, as Ian emerged from the water and walked through the shallows onto the beach, he couldn't say he was disappointed to be back. He was closer to Sonora, and that was always a good thing.

His physical pain eased the closer he got to her. He smiled as he caught the stare of an awestruck little boy who had watched his arrival. He tossed the child's hair as he passed by him.

Ian swung his head from side to side to shake out the excess water from his dark hair. He started through the parking lot on bare feet to his car hidden in the park near the place he had 'interrogated' Blake. Inside the vehicle, he had clothes and shoes even though it was a short ride to the apartment he used when on land.

After picking up food both from the grocery store and from a restaurant, Ian made it to his second home. A typical seaside condo, Ian enjoyed its colorful appearance. After parking his car in the garage, he hauled in his groceries while chewing on a piece of chicken. Passing the front door, he saw the mail scattered on the floor in front of it.

Picking it up off the tan-color tile, Ian scanned it. He needed to pay his electric. It was past due. The rest was junk mail. Ian grunted his irritation. It never ceases to amaze me how much unnecessary paper I get when I don't even live in this world.

A low, indistinct sound. Ian stilled and listened. It hadn't been outside, not the car that roared by or the faint resonating shrieks of the neighborhood children. It was more like a small scuff of a shoe or the slight squeak of a door.

It was more like someone was in the house.

Thankful he had made it to the kitchen, Ian reached into the knife drawer and wrapped his hands around the largest one. He tipped the bag of groceries over the counter as he pulled it out to cover the noise he was making.

Eyeing the closest door, the front one, he walked as lightly as possible to it. If he could make it out of the house, he could disappear in the town and find out who was after him later.

In the entry, Ian stood in front of the door, a wall behind him and an open doorway to either side of him.

Something brushed against the wall behind him. He swung around as a shiver ran down his spine, only to find a bare coral-colored wall.

They are on the other side of the wall. Ian's heart pounded. It would only be a few steps for them to round to one of the open doorways. Ian whirled back toward the front door and flipped its locks as fast as he could.

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