"Gaed..." Aern breathed. "It's...him." His red eyes flickered about the platform, taking in the moon crystals, the strange twirling glyphs that circled the pillar of light, and the Shwartzian that was held within. "I don't understand...why is he there?"
"Why are the moon crystals here?" Vyse asked of nobody in particular. "Weren't these things part of Zelos? I mean, after we blasted the hell out of that thing with our cannons, it shrunk and sort of clung to Ramirez...I thought that the moon crystals were still in the Gigas when that happened..." Then he frowned. "But when Zelos disappeared after we killed it, Ramirez went with it. All that was left was his sword and the Silver Moon crystal that was in him. We threw those overboard as part of a funeral...but the other moon crystals?" He scratched at his unruly hair, completely baffled. "This just doesn't make sense."
Fina looked at the platform. "But don't you remember? This platform was part of Zelos, and so were the moon crystals. Still, the Silver Moon crystal that's needed at the center isn't there. Instead, there's....a Shwartzian." She frowned slightly. "Could it possible that when a Black Moon crystal is where the Silver is supposed to be, this happens?"
"That could be." Aern looked up at the other member of his Protectorate. "Gaed would be one of the few who knows how this device works. Although, I still don't understand why." He reached a hand out to the nearest crystal, which happened to be the diamond-shaped Red Moon crystal. "Only one way to find out." He pulled the glowing crystal from its place on the platform, and looked up at Gaed. The other Shwartzian didn't move, although the cone of light around him flickered and wavered. Aern reached out and next removed the Blue Moon crystal. The barrier flickered more violently, and then disappeared entirely. Gaed's wings unfurled slightly, and then the Shwartzian fell to the platform below.
Aern carefully handed the two moon crystals to Aika, and then went to his friend's aid. "Gaed? Gaed, are you all right?"
Gaed's pupiless azure eyes opened slowly, and he slowly raised his dragonic head. "Aern? Vilew gai mer...?" He sat up slowly, holding something in each of his large, clawed hands. One was a sword, curved and fluted in only a way that could only be described as alien, and yet it seemed familiar. One was something that seemed small in comparison, that glowed white while held tightly in the creature's large palm.
"Meros gae Soltis. You're in Soltis, Gaed." Aern supplied. "We found you inside Zelos' chamber."
Gaed glanced around him. "I'm still in Soltis? And why are we speaking in the Common tongue?" He hung his head, letting his eyes slide shut, the white crest of his hair ruffling slightly from the movement. "That's right...I remember now." He raised his face, as if looking up at his Protectorate member through his closed eyelids. "I failed, Aern. I couldn't find the Silvite that was in here. All I managed to get were these after Zelos fled here..." He held up the sword and opened the palm of his other hand to reveal a small, glowing sphere.
It was a Silver Moon crystal.
"Zelos is basically dead, not even all the crystals can revive it...but it protected what was left of its last master and brought them back here. It was the Silvite, Aern...he had summoned the Gigas, using his own crystal." He sighed, opening his glowing azure eyes. "I would never think that a Silvite would repeat the mistakes of his ancestors." He stood slowly, as if noticing the others for the first time. "I see you brought friends, and now I know why we're speaking Common. Wait..." He shakily stepped down from the platform and walked over to Fina, his talons clicking on the white metallic stone of the chamber. "You are a Silvite...a Silvite female..."
Fina, who was doing her best not to weep, put a hand to her eyes to hide her tears. "You...you're holding Ramirez...what's left of Ramirez..."
"I am sorry, very sorry...I did not kill him, however. I'm sorry if my possession of his crystal brings you pain, but I needed it. As for the sword..." He shrugged. "It is a fine blade, of Silvite design. Such things are rare now, so I figured I would bring it back to Gen Gulan to be placed in a museum of honor." He bowed his head. "I know it's painful, but I think you had best keep these yourself." Gaed held out his clawed hands, presenting the sword and the crystal to her.
The Silvite pulled her away from her face, and looked at the two items through blurred vision. Then she gently took them from his hands, cradling them to her chest. "T-thank you."
Gaed placed a massive hand on her shoulder kindly, even if his gargoyle-like face didn't permit him to express his empathy otherwise. "I think I will be thanking you in time. You are a Silvite, and you can help our people."
Fina nodded, but didn't say much else. Vyse stepped up next to her and looked at her tears with an unreadable expression. "Fina...will you be okay?" When she didn't respond, he sighed and took the sword from her fingers, putting an arm around her shoulders. "It's fine now. We've found who we were looking for, mission accomplished. We can get out of this place now. I'll carry his sword, you can carry his crystal." He glanced up at Gaed. "I'm not exactly sure how you came to get here, but you can explain on the way back. My crew is waiting. Can you walk? You look a bit weak."
"I will be fine, thank you. I will not resume my normal form just yet, however. There are ladies present, and I'm somewhat...uh..naked."
"They know, Gaed. I've told them about us." Aern said.
Wordlessly, Vyse lead Fina from the chamber, still clasping an arm around her trembling shoulders. Aika followed close behind, with an empathetic look on her face. Gaed lumbered along next, wings folded, Aern next to him. Lani and Gilder took up the rear, having grabbed the remaining moon crystals.
"This is the Vyse we really know." Gilder murmured quietly to Lani. "The crybaby you saw earlier was only because he bonked his head. He always, and I mean always cares about everybody else before himself. That's why so many people look up to him as a captain. He's managed to do in two years what it took me ten to do."
"A good heart can always win out over charisma, Gilder." Lani said, just as quietly. "Maybe people could learn something from our young friend."
"Sure they could, just as long as they don't realize that he's still learning himself." Gilder glanced ahead at Vyse, who was talking soothingly to Fina. All traces of roguishness were gone from Gilder's face, and for once he seemed serious. "I still envy him, though...for all that he and his friends have gone through, they've accomplished so much. Sometimes I consider myself damn lucky just to have fought alongside him and his crew."
The Yafutoman smiled. "I consider myself lucky that he's willing to be my friend."
Gilder nodded. "Yeah. Things like that are the real treasure so many people like myself look for. I'm glad that I found it, at least."
* * *
The trip back to the Delphinus was uneventful. For some reason, the Guardians didn't disturb them. Perhaps it was because the moon crystals were no longer in place, and the Guardians were no longer empowered. Perhaps it was the fact that they avoided a group that contained in essence two Silvites...or at least two Silver Moon crystals. Whatever the reason was, it only took them two hours to return to the ship. On the way back, Gaed told his story.
"When Soltis rose above the clouds, I knew that a Silvite was involved. Aern was searching the area near our homeland, and Eleah was searching near the Blue moon. I was the only one nearby that could investigate, although the ascension of Soltis caused all the continents to shift slightly, and the rifts to grow or shrink."
"Trust me, I noticed that. I think it'd be hard to miss." Aern smiled. "Go on."
"I could not find a way to enter Soltis at first, since it had a shield erected above it. I saw various ships attempting to get through, but none succeeded. I thought I would not get through, so I circled nearby, pondering the problem.
"Before I could come to a solution, the Great Silver Shrine hurled down from the heavens and shattered the shield with its impact. I felt despaired, knowing that unless there was truly a Silvite elsewhere on the planet, then all of them would have died from this act." He sighed. "There were so few left...why did they give their lives away?"
"The Elders did it for us." Fina said, the first words she had spoken in a while. "They wanted us to stop Ramirez from using the rains again. The area under the Yellow moon had been pretty much destroyed by him, so..." She trailed off, shrugged, and continued walking.
"Ah, I understand now, but it's still a shame. Anyway, once the shield was gone, I flew in past a few of the sentinels that were guarding the entry towers, and entered the continent. I recall as I entered, some sort of battle was going on overhead, although I did not realize what it was until I finally reached the center of Soltis, to Zelos' chamber.
"The chamber was empty, meaning Zelos was gone. There was also no sign of the Silvite that had summoned him. I know only Silvites can summon Zelos, just as only Shwartzians can summon Mortian. I feared that the rains would be used again, that Zelos would destroy more lives...but before I could leave again, Zelos returned...or what was left of it. Zelos is a creature of Silver, and can reshape itself, being constructed of nanites."
"What's a nanite?" Aika asked, confused.
"A nanite is a very tiny, microscopic machine. Silver creatures such as that one you call Cupil are made of them. They can reform into various shapes, both solid and liquid, and use moonstones as fuel." He continued walking down the ancient tunnels of Soltis, even as he continued with his story. "Zelos was so badly damaged that it could not repair itself. It is essentially dead, although it was never truly alive. It returned, carrying with it the six moon crystals that had empowered it. This included a Silver moon crystal, no doubt having came from its previous master, the Silvite I had been searching for. Chagrined, I picked up the Silver crystal and the sword that Zelos had returned with, and made my way back to the entrance of Soltis. Unfortunately, halfway there, I could feel the entire continent shuddering and trembling. I feared the worst.
"My fears were not ill-founded. When I reached the outside, I was nearly crushed by the air pressure. I used my Black Moon crystal to remedy this, and took in my surroundings. I was on the surface of the planet; Soltis had sunk back below the clouds, which is where I assume we are now."
"We are." Aern said. "But we had to come here to get you."
"I appreciate it. Knowing that I simply could not fly that far while using my crystal, I decided to return to Zelos' chamber. I knew that the Gigas had slept there for eons, and I assumed I could do the same. Using a technique similar to that which all Shwartzians used to place ourselves in suspended animation, I used the powers of the six moon crystals, and the crystal within my body. The next thing I knew, you were all standing around me." His purple-blue eyes glowed softly in the faint light as he looked ahead, down the passageway that lead to the entry tower's lift. "You said you have a ship waiting, Vyse?"
"Yeah. We've been down here about eight hours or so now, but they have orders to stick around another four before taking off. I know they're still out there." His skyseer patch glinted in the light from the Silver moonstone lanterns. "They may be a bit surprised to see you, though. Most of them have never seen Aern in his...dragon thingy...uh, form." He frowned. "What exactly do you transform into?"
"In our language, it is called a Mivaeria...plural, Mivarae. The term doesn't translate very well into Arcadia's common tongue, but the closest terms would be "storm skimmer" or "maelstrom surfer". Every Shwartzian has the ability to transform once they hit puberty. Before that, their bodies do not have the mental discipline to manipulate the magic within their Black moon crystals." Gaed stopped at the end of the hall, wings folded batlike on his back. "Ah yes, this thing."
"Don't let Gilder touch it. Things will pop out and try to kick our asses again." Aika smirked.
"You act as if I blew us all to bits. C'mon, I just was trying a few things." He sighed, seeming a bit jittery. "I wish I could have a smoke. For some reason, I just can't picture lighting up in this creepy place."
"Cigarettes stink anyway." Aika said, wrinkling her nose.
"So does that hair crap you use to keep those braids up and at attention." He tilted his head back slightly to glance at her through smoked lenses with a mocking expression .
"Guys, later." Vyse looked at the panel that activated the strange Silvite elevator. "Jeez, I wish I was paying attention more when Gilder was poking at this before."
Wordlessly, Gaed reached out with one clawed hand, and pressed a few buttons almost daintily with his slender fingers. The now-familiar humming sound was heard from behind the door, and then the bronze slabs slid back to reveal the waiting lift.
"Uh, thanks." Vyse stepped onto the elevator, the others following suit.
Aern's protective dome of low-pressure air was erected again, and the seven of them made their way out of Shrine Island's brother tower and onto the surface of Soltis again, where the Delphinus was waiting. The group stepped onto the lift, and Vyse banged on the large steel support shaft with a particular pattern, the pommel of his cutlass making a large resounding echo as it banged against the metal. At that pre-arranged signal, the lift chugged its way back up into the small alcove within the Delphinus' bow, albeit hesitantly. Once the doors slid shut with a definite locking sound, a pair of doors behind them opened up to allow the air pressure within the chamber to return to normal levels. At this point, Aern took down his barrier.
"Finally...I was starting to get tired." He sighed, rubbing at his chest almost as if it hurt him. "Gaed, you had best stand in the middle of us all, just so people don't think you're out to attack them."
"I know, Aern." The other Shwartzian's tone was patient, chiding...almost like the sort of voice one uses to address a child. Still, he stepped towards the middle of the group. "Ready."
Vyse rapped on the door with his cutlass, and the two crew members behind it activated the mechanism to slide the twin doors open. One was a newcomer, the other was an old crew member from the Albatross. Vyse's old crewmate started when he saw Gaed standing in the middle of the group.
"It's all right, Danson." the scarred blue rogue assured him. "That monster behind me is the reason we came down here. He's not gonna hurt anybody...although he probably could use a blanket or a long coat or something. Don't want a naked guy running through my ship." He paused, waiting for the gawking crewman to respond. "Now, Danson."
Danson blinked. "Uh? Oh, sorry Cap'n. Aye. I'll go get a blanket." He turned and jogged out of the bow's loading bay, where the lift system was situated. The other crew member continued to stare at Gaed, although it was more in wonder than in shock.
"I don't know what he is, but he's pretty cool." She said in an awed voice. "Captain, who or what is he?"
"My name is Gaed." The Shwartzian rumbled. "I am a member of Aern's Protectorate."
"Uh, that is....he's a friend of Aern's. I think I introduced most of the crew to Aern during the storm yesterday." Vyse's eyes flickered to the door as Danson returned carrying a large blanket. "Oh, good. That will do until we find Gaed some clothing."
The crew member boldly reached out to hand the rough woolen blanket to Gaed, although the look on his face indicated that he still wasn't too sure about the creature. The dragonic Shwartzian took the blanket in his long-fingered clawed hands and wrapped it around his proportionally slim waist. There was a blurring then, almost as if things were moving too quickly for the eye to see, and the tall shape shifted to melt into the smaller form of a man. He had pale skin and red eyes like Aern, although his hair was a dark blue color instead of purple. Gaed's features were still somewhat handsome, although not quite as much as Aern's. It was apparent that Gaed was ordinary looking among his race.
Even though they had been traveling with Aern, none in the group had seen him go through the transformation. It was just as shocking to them as it was to the two crew members who watched in awe.
"Moons! Did you see that?" Danson breathed.
"See it? I don't think I'll ever forget it." Marta, the other crew member, shook her head. "That's not something you see every day, not even on Captain Vyse's ship."
"I have a certain reputation." Vyse said blandly in way of explanation to Gaed. "I think because of you and Aern, that reputation is growing." He sighed. "Well, let's get you some clothes so you don't have to stand around in a blanket."
* * *
"This is much more comfortable." Gaed sighed, plucking at the front of the shirt he wore. He was garbed in standard Mid-Ocean sailor fare, made mostly of cotton and leather. Even with his navy blue hair and red eyes, he seemed to fit more with the group than Aern did. "If I had to wrap that itchy blanket around myself for another moment, I would have screamed. I'm allergic to wool."
He, and the others, were seated in the main dining room. Nearby, Urala was washing glasses and chatting idly with Hans, who was off shift. Aside from that, no other crew members were in the mess hall. Sending Gaed with Aern and Lani to get some clothing, Vyse, Aika and Fina had returned to their posts on the bridge until they were safely out of the Vortex and back into Mid-Sky. While Vyse and Aika had met up with the others at the mess hall, Fina had stated that she wanted to go to her quarters for a while, and that she would join them there later. In light of the discovery of Ramirez's sword and crystal, they didn't argue and let her be alone.
No one knew where Gilder went, but he had rejoined them in the mess hall after they were a bit of the way to Sailor's Isle to be refueled. Aika had wanted to stop back at Windmill/Pirate's Isle for this, but Vyse had insisted that his father simply didn't have the moonstones to refuel a large battleship such as the Delphinus.
"This ship is enormous." Gaed commented, already feeling at ease, more so than Aern originally did. "I had not known that island-dwellers were capable of making them like this. The last time I saw one of this size, it was before Zelos had ruined the world with the Rains."
"We're not quite as backwards as we were right after the apocalypse." Lani said lightly. "Valua has many large ships, and this one is from Valua...even though it is in the possession of a Mid-Ocean captain and crew."
"Technically, I'm still "borrowing" it, Lani." Vyse was toying with his skyseer patch, turning it over in his hands. Most agreed that he looked better without it. "Enrique hasn't asked for it back yet, but he hasn't said that it's 100% mine either. So, I think that we're still running on that agreement we made when we first met: I get to use the Delphinus until the Emperor needs it back." He set the bizarre glass eyepatch down on the table with a gentle clinking sound. "This is a large warship. I hope he never will need it back."
"Better in the hands of Blue Rogues than in the hands of generals." Gilder took a puff off his cigarette. "But I don't see anybody going to war anytime soon. Valua is still cleaning up the messes that its previous government made, and since they're rebuilding their towns and recovering from the Rains, I don't think they're in the mood to go to war anytime soon."
"The world seems to be much better now than it was when I was a child." Aern said quietly. He had said little since they had returned with Gaed, even though members of the group had been speaking to him. Except Gaed. Gaed seemed to say little to the other member of his Protectorate.
"Fina sometimes tells us about how the world seemed to be when she was living in the Great Silver Shrine." Aika, as usual, was cheerful about having somebody new on board. "She said that it was hard to tell the differences between people, and how they behaved. The Silvites could see people and their cities under the various moons, but they really couldn't interpret what was happening very well. Fina got a real culture shock when she traveled down to Arcadia and met up with us." Then she frowned. "Come to think of it, she still hasn't met us here. Isn't she hungry?"
"She's probably still sulking. You know how moody women get." Gilder wilted slightly under Vyse's icy stare. "Uh, not sulking. I meant to say, "upset"." The taller pirate didn't used to shrink from his younger friend's anger, but while Vyse hadn't grown in size he had in fact grown in other ways that Gilder respected. That, and he knew that Vyse could wipe the walls with him if he really felt like it.
"Gilder, you really should learn to think before you speak about women, especially my friends." Vyse shook his head, sighing ruefully. "At one minute, you're Mr. Manners, the next you're a complete chauvinist jerk. For somebody who claims to be a gentleman, you really don't know how to treat certain people."
Gilder removed his smoked lenses and pinched at the bridge of his nose. Then he looked at Vyse. "You were raised one way, I was another. We're not the same person, Vyse. You have your way of speaking to people, and so do I. Don't get on my case about it, because I'm not going to change. Besides, we've had this conversation before and it really gets nowhere." He slid the glasses back onto his handsome face. "Well, at least I think it gets nowhere."
"You're right, it doesn't." The scarred blue rogue sighed, and stood. "Still, I think I'll go look in on my "moody woman friend" who is "sulking". Aika, if anybody needs me, you know where to find me."
Aika nodded and watched her best friend leave the mess hall. "Good. If he wasn't going up there to cheer her up soon, I was about to go myself." She paused thoughtfully. "Now that I think about it, she probably would appreciate Vyse's company more than mine right now."
"Lovers can comfort each other better than friends can." Gaed commented. "Seeing them makes me wonder where my Eleah is."
The redhead laughed. "Oh, they're not dating, even though they're pretty close. Fina even has a thing for Vyse, but she'd sooner die than tell him. Vyse..." She sighed, shrugging a bit helplessly. "...well, what's to say? I know that he likes Fina as a friend, but I don't think that there's any real interest there."
"They're the perfect couple that doesn't know it." the red-clad pirate murmured. "A lot of people agree that they should hook up."
"Don't forget that Vyse has never had a girlfriend. I don't think he can read the signs well." Aika sighed again. "Or maybe he can, and he's just good at playing dumb." She made a rueful face. "Whatever it is, I wish he would just knock it off and let himself be happy. Or at least let Fina be happy."
Gilder patted her kindly on the back, gently smiling at her in a way that few had seen before. He was not known for empathy usually. "I'm glad to see that you're done chasing after something you know you can't have. I think you're finally grown up, at least in that instance."
She gave a wan smile. "Well, after more than a decade of trying, I have to admit defeat. At least for now." Something about the way she said it indicated that it was not entirely so, but she was attempting to be brave anyway. She looked down at her half-eaten plate of fish, and then continued with her meal as if the conversation never happened.
* * *
Stepping up to the door of Fina's quarters, Vyse halted in the act of knocking. What could he possibly say to her that could make her feel better? After moving on, Fina had once again been reminded of the pain that her best friend had brought her. While he had only seen Ramirez as a monster, Vyse knew that Fina had become familiar with another person entirely. Rubbing at his jaw where his skyseer patch usually was, he mentally kicked himself for not at least picking it back up before he left. Hopefully, Aika would see it there and grab it for him.
Knocking, he cleared his throat. "Fina?"
There was no answer behind the door.
Rapping his knuckles against the metal door again, he repeated himself. "Fina? It's me. I just wanted to know if you were okay." The silence behind the door made his confidence waver. He knew that he somehow had the right kind of charisma to put people in a pleasant mood, the ability to heal a wounded soul and conscience, although how he ever really came around to doing so was beyond him. Vyse simply talked and smiled to whoever it was, and for some reason, that seemed to work most of the time. Still, each time he had to console somebody, he was almost at a loss at what to do. He would see somebody in pain and then suddenly feel like them himself, without even wanting to.
It was something he hated, something that made him feel weak and boyish. It was a natural reaction, though, and whenever such a situation came along, it seemed as if he was speaking to more instill confidence in himself than the other person. Yet, just rambling on with a smile on his face made both he and the other feel better.
"Fina," he said almost patiently. "I don't like to see you like this. But I won't come barging into your room either. Please let me in."
The voice that came from the other side of the door was muffled slightly. "Come in."
Opening the door just enough to let him slip in, Vyse glanced around the room. As always, Fina's quarters were neat and tidy, and slightly feminine. The long, strangely curved sword that had once belonged to Ramirez sat propped up in the corner of the room, out of the way and partially out of sight. The electric lamp on her desk was turned on, adding to the light of the silver moon crystal that sat on the bedside table. At least she wasn't sitting in the dark. He shut the door behind him carefully. "Everybody is waiting for you."
Fina didn't answer. She sat on her bed, cradling a pillow against her chest. Turned slightly so she could glance at the dusky clouds rolling past through the small window, it was hard for Vyse to see her expression from this angle. Her blue bandanna sat next to her on the bed in a crumpled heap, leaving her blonde hair bare.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he ventured, not entirely sure of what he was saying or doing. Without entirely realizing it, his legs brought him over to stand next to her, where he waited for a moment before speaking again. "I'm worried about you, Fina. Please say something."
"You are?" Her voice was tired, worn. "Of course you are." She sighed, turning her face away from the window and resting her chin on the top of the pillow she was hugging. "Just like I was worried about you last week." Her expression was strange, a mixture of emotions that seemed to all mix up into one conglomerate of misery. It wasn't often that Fina was miserable.
He sat down on the bed next to her, folding his hands in his lap, staring ahead at the wall. "I know you were. And I appreciated that, Fina...I really did. I would say that I can relate, but...what happened with me turned out with a happy ending."
Fina hurled the pillow across the room almost vehemently. "But what about ME? Why can't I have a happy ending? Why do these things keep reminding me of who and what I am?"
Vyse turned his head to look at her. "Fina..."
"I hate it. I hate it all." She balled her hands into fists, trembling slightly while her face contorted into one of morose anger. "The whole thing with Ramirez, the death of the Elders, and now this Shwartzian problem where I have to save their people..." She put her fists up to her cheeks, gritting her teeth. "It makes me feel so alone...I'm all alone." Bordering on hysteria, she gripped at her face, digging her nails into her smooth flesh. "I hate it all!"
Alarmed slightly by her behavior, Vyse reached out to take her hands away from her face before they drew blood. They still left pink prickmarks from her delicate, medium-length fingernails. "Fina, please calm down. Don't hurt yourself."
Her green eyes flashed angrily at him. "Don't you know what it's like? You're Vyse the Legend. You're the man that's saved the world, and yet you yourself said you don't want to be placed on a pedastal because it's lonely up there. You just want to be a person, just like everybody else." Her lower lip trembled slightly. "Don't you understand where I'm coming from?"
He nodded and took her smaller hands in his large, tanned ones. "Of course I understand. Sometimes I feel the same way. No, I feel the same way pretty often, but then I think about how I'm not alone." He smiled softly, in a reassuring way. "You're not alone."
Fina simply crumbled then, her shoulders slumping forward, her long bangs falling in her face. "I'm not alone...because you're here." she moaned in a voice that was thick with tears.
Vyse gave a small chuckle that sounded more like one of self-pity to himself than anything else. He knew where this conversation might go, how it would make both of them feel uncomfortable. No, how it would make him feel uncomfortable. He wasn't stupid, he wasn't blind. He could see the signs, both from Aika and Fina. And he didn't want to follow up with one in fear of wounding the other. And yet, he heard himself say, "I'm here. I'm always here, and I'll always be here." It was almost as if his voice was betraying him, letting too much of him show through.
The Silvite pulled her hands away from his and held them cradled against her chest, between her breasts. It was something she always did when upset. "It...it's good to hear you say that."
He reached out and carefully brushed a few hairs out of her face. "I hoped it would be. Are you feeling any better?"
"I...don't know." That seemed truthful enough, at least. She was still trembling, her cheeks pink and eyes full of unshed tears. "Vyse?"
"Would you...?" She turned her face away, the pink on her cheeks heightening a bit. "Nothing. Never mind."
Not even thinking about it, he edged closer and wrapped his arms around her. Fina rested her face against his chest, placing one hand on his shoulder and the other around his somewhat slim torso. "Thank you." she said in a voice barely above a whisper. Before he could answer, she began to cry. He quietly sat there and let her, knowing that she would feel better in a few moments. Still, the fact that she was so upset had dampened his own spirits, as it always did. What really added fuel to the fire, however, was how ironic the situation was. A few days ago, Fina had attempted to console him. Now, he was here, doing what he could for her.
Sometimes his own humanity bothered him, tore at his insides even as it was tearing at Fina's insides at this very moment. As he held her trembling form, he thought of how he wished he could do this so many times before, just peacefully hold her against him, not worry about anything else at the moment. And yet, there was always worry, Vyse thought as he rested his cheek against her pale golden hair. He wondered how long this charade would or could go on, how long he could pretend to play dumb. He wasn't pretending here, not able to act false in front of somebody who was wounded. It just wasn't in his nature to do that.
Gently brushing his lips against the top of her head, just barely so she wouldn't notice, he spoke softly. "I'm alone so often, Fina, that sometimes I wonder why it doesn't drive me insane. Sometimes the world seems so huge, and you seem to be so tiny and insignificant...like a child that's lost its family in a busy city. At times I don't understand why things have to be that way...but then I realize that it's only part of being human."
"Is that why I can't stop crying?" Fina's voice was muffled, her cheek pressed against the area above his heart.
"Probably. I think you're handling it better than I would. I think you're a stronger person than I am, Fina. You don't lie to yourself and say it's okay...you just admit it and then accept it."
She moved her face slightly to look up at him. "I wouldn't say so. I'm fairly weak."
"Look at it this way, then: you just came from a stressful place where the very air could crush you, where you were casting a lot of magic. You're slightly in magical shock, you're worried about your promise to Aern, and now you've just received a momento of Ramirez." He sighed as she squeezed her eyes shut, burned by the words he was saying. "I know," he said soothingly. "..I know. But if it was me, I would be more than just upset. I would be climbing the walls, raving and insane."
"Mmm." It wasn't necessarily a sound of agreement, but at least it wasn't a sound of weeping.
"When we get to Sailor's Isle, I think we'll actually stay at one of the inns there instead of sleeping on the ship. You can have one of Polly's nice hot meals, and then have a warm bath at your room...and I can even buy you a new book to read from the market, if you'd like." They weren't empty promises. He actually intended on doing them, wanting to do anything to lessen her depression.
"Thank you, that would be very nice." Fina sat with her eyes closed, almost contentedly resting her face against him. "I've never done this before..."
"Done what? I've given you a hug before, Fina."
"No, I mean I've never sat and listened to anybody's heart before. For some reason, it's very soothing." She sighed and smiled. "Right now I don't feel alone, and I feel safe too. It's a good feeling."
"That's good, I'm glad you're feeling better." He didn't move, though. He didn't want to move.
"I am." She paused. "Vyse?"
"Can you just sit here with me, a little longer? Until at least we get to Sailor's Isle?"
He chuckled again, except this time it didn't seem like self-pity to Vyse...more like an expression of contentment. This time he kissed the top of her head a bit more soundly, but more of a brotherly sort of way, so he wouldn't betray himself. "Of course. I'm not going anywhere."
And he didn't, not for a long time.
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