Author: DropOfInk PM
This is a story about choices. A story about innocence, failure, and broken faith. A story about hope, bitter wisdom, and the peace that we all must make with our past. Canon TLA. T for language.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Felix & Mia - Chapters: 16 - Words: 71,871 - Reviews: 76 - Favs: 18 - Follows: 15 - Updated: 02-17-13 - Published: 04-30-11 - id: 6952598
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hey guys, it's me again. Listen, I'm really sorry for the delay in chapters. I started writing this the day after I posted the last one. I've been dealing with a lot of personal stuff from the last few years lately, and I happened to also undergo a major crisis regarding the direction and purpose of this story at roughly the same time. :/ All emergencies and flying personal demons have been more or less dealt with.
This is a rather long author's note, as I have a lot of information to give you; bear with me.
Thanks to Noel the Mermaid, Celestia's Paladin, fegs2fan, and Caellach Tiger Eye for reviews. SteadyXSword, leave a signed review, man! I don't know if I've ever put this down in print before, so here is
DropOfInk's Official Review Policy: I give a thoughtful, legible reply to every single signed review I get. Especially if you ask a question, it's worth the extra four seconds.
Due to the prolonged absence of this story (dropped all the way to page three) I took this opportunity to revise the published material. I cut some unnecessary cursing, fixed a mistake or two, but here's the deal. I really messed up with Felix in this, due to not really knowing what I was doing in the beginning. I've got a much more solid grasp of his character now, and I want above all to do him justice – he's the center of the story, after all. So I ended up having to rewrite some significant chunks. This story is a mess, let me tell you. It's a hugely involved, self-referential, sprawling, insanely complicated train wreck, and I have had a crazy time keeping the motivations, thoughts, and internal development of eight characters straight while also making at least a feeble attempt to hit the events of TLA in the right order. So, the bad news is you should probably reread it. The good news is, I think (I hope) it's better enough to be worth the investment. I ended up adding a bit of new material to make some transitions smoother. It's a disaster back there, I tell ya.
I cut out all my sugar-high babbling in the author's notes, and I got rid of the joke chapter. Also I added quotes from the games as headers. I like how literary and pretentious it feels now.
Also this chapter is really really long.
Finally, this chapter sucks. If it sucks, I'm sorry. ._.
It is proper for a warrior to be a man of few words.
– Kibombo, TLA
Good weapons aren't just sharp. They also draw out the strength
of the user. ...So said my father. Do you know what he meant,
Isaac? I do...
– Vale Merchant
"But what does it do?"
Jenna's voice rang out in slight petulance, her arms crossed and eyes narrowed. Looking like that, she strongly reminded Mia of a certain dark-haired brother. Felix went up behind Jenna and Isaac, following Sheba's pulling fingers.
"Kraden thinks it's some kind of weapon," Isaac said, letting Felix observe for himself. Mia discreetly followed suit.
The object they were all staring at was a long metal cylinder mounted securely on a wooden frame. Kraden was crawling all around it, tapping, poking, and prying, and in between Mia caught glimpses of ornate finish and carving all along its length.
She decided she hadn't the faintest idea what it was.
"Hm," Felix offered, walking around to the opposite side. There he assumed the same position as Jenna, scowling at the machine as if he were intimidating it into submission.
"How do you think it works, Kraden?"
The scholar popped to his feet, energetically brushing dust off his knees.
"Well, you see the hole in that end. The other end is solid, and this frame is built like a rock. I think you're supposed to put something in there, and then…" he gestured –"it would come out!"
His hands fell to his sides. "…Somehow."
A dwarf Mia had not noticed stirred nearby.
"That's about as much as we've been able to figure out."
"But if anyone knows what was supposed to go in it… we don't now," Ivan said pensively.
"Where did you find this?" Felix asked quietly.
"We dug it up here in the ruins," the dwarf responded. "It's a unique find, and doesn't seem to have much in common with the rest of the dig."
Felix looked around at the towering walls of dirt and stone, a shade of sorrow across his eyes.
"I wonder what this place has seen," he said softly.
Staring at the tube, Mia shivered faintly, for an instant smelling blood on the wind.
The moment passed, and he returned to business, crouching at the other end of the tube.
"Tell me what you've tried," he said, his voice echoing oddly out of the pipe.
"We tried putting a rock in it, and got Garet to give it a good hard belt, and nothing happened," Isaac said.
"So that means whatever…makes it go… isn't in this part of it," Kraden said eagerly.
"Or it's broken," Felix said, looking up from the pipe end.
"No, I don't think so," the dwarf said. "This whole tube is one solid piece. There can't be a mechanism on it."
Mia looked from face to face, listening intently to the discussion. The whole group was fascinated by this strange find; only Garet had gotten bored and was doing something half out of sight a little ways off. At the dwarf's last words a tense silence fell, the intensity of thought almost palpable.
For her own part, she knew she had no hope of solving the mystery. She reflected instead on just how silly this little scene was. Felix, for all his troubles and his driving motivation, couldn't help himself with something like this. Almost against his will he was trying to figure it out, drawn in without thinking. In that he reminded her of Isaac. Isaac, who was always stopping with Ivan to solve puzzles and save helpless people – in certain ways they were very alike. She usually stayed a little to one side, like now, confident the others would figure it out.
Then Felix shot upright and leaned toward Jenna, a strange light in his eyes.
"Jenna… that rock. That stupid rock."
"What ro- oh, good grief. That thing?" she said incredulously.
Felix chuckled to himself. Laughing at himself, really.
"It's on the ship." He turned and jogged past Mia, still amused, quickly disappearing up the ramp to the beach. She turned back to the group in total confusion.
"We've spent a lot of time on this trip wandering around in every insane, gods-forsaken corner of Weyard there is. Deep in the heart of Gondowan, there's a mountain where rests a powerful Mars energy. Who knows how or when it got there, but it's there, and it called to me until we finally found it. We tripped around inside for almost two days." In those words Mia heard an ordeal better left unexplored. "Finally, on the way out, we found this little rock. You'll have to see it; it's practically glowing with energy."
"That sounds promising," Isaac said, "but I don't see how that could be related to this thing."
"Felix only took it with us because he wanted to gain something from that disaster. I don't really see it either, but he obviously has an idea."
Isaac nodded, and they waited. Where they stood, the ramp descended into the shadow of a wall. All around, the high clay walls of the pit were glowing with the light of the early afternoon. The effect was striking. She saw Garet walking across to where they stood, his hair alone lit up by the sun.
"Hey, Isaac, come on over and take a look at this."
The two went back to where Garet had been puttering around earlier, and she saw Garet gesturing at something on the ground as he and Isaac rounded the shoulder of a ruined house. Kraden continued his incessant tappings with one fingernail, the endless tink-tink-tink so ludicrously annoying that Mia had to snort and grin. He really had no idea where he was sometimes.
Finally Felix returned at a steady run. As he passed again she saw he had something wrapped in a cloth held tight against his chest. She closed in behind him, curious to see what would happen.
"You didn't tell me how hot this thing was," he said to Jenna reproachfully.
"Be careful. It's hot," she returned.
He shook his head and knelt before the opening. Out of the corner of her vision Mia saw Isaac and Garet strolling back to them, but before she could say anything Felix had jumped back to the side.
The first thing she heard was a tremendous ringing in her ears, a high-pitched shriek singing on and on.
The wall opposite the weapon had been utterly destroyed, an enormous rent torn in the stones. Isaac and Garet were lying face-down in the dirt of the square, where they'd sought shelter from the glowing ball of fire. As one, she looked guiltily with the others at the dwarf. What met her, though, was not anger; the dwarf was positively jumping up and down with contained excitement. Her hearing began to clear gradually, and the dwarf's shouts faded in.
"-did it! You did it, you really did it! It works!" In the usual course of things, she expected Kraden to be filling that role. She spotted him on her third glance around, wide-eyed and absolutely still. He was in shock so perfect she almost began to worry, but after a second he began cheering nervously.
"…Yes, I guess it does," Felix said tentatively.
The rest of the miners were slowly assembling around the hole in the masonry, ignoring Isaac and Garet's prostrate forms. As Mia and her companions walked over to join the larger group of dwarves, the two cautiously got to their feet. Smoke and dust from the rubble still hung in a cloud around them.
Felix cleared his throat.
"A-hem. Sorry about your wall…"
The senior dwarf turned on him.
"Sorry? We've been trying to get that wall down for months. Who knows what's still hidden back there?"
Certainly enough, five or six dwarves were pressing in, scrambling over the ruins of the wall. Mia saw nothing but musty air and dirt, but she was no judge.
"Nice one, Felix," Isaac said wryly, dusting himself off.
"I didn't know that was going to happen," Felix said, taking a slow step back from the smoking weapon.
"Well… good job figuring it out," Isaac said, slowly, uncertainly.
"Thanks," Felix said, and smiled suddenly. "It was pure luck."
She smiled too, feeling warmth flaring in her heart. Isaac walked past her to the hole in the wall. She turned and peered in again. Who had lived here so long ago? She thought she could make out dim shapes now, formless, menacing outlines in the grey smoke. The orange ball flickered like a candle, half-buried in the ground.
"Surprising," Kraden muttered from a point just behind her right ear. "I wonder if the two objects have a common origin. Most astonishing, certainly. Lord Babi would have been impressed. I wonder if this came from one of the four ancients…"
Over this Mia suddenly caught the sound of Felix's voice. She turned and listened. He was standing by the weapon, talking to the chief of the dwarves again. Even at that distance and under his unruly hair she could see total surprise written on his face.
"Uh, no, that's okay. Thank you, though."
"No, no, I insist! We have no further use for it." The dwarf flicked a finger and a few of the settlers came over. Grunting and straining, they got the entire contraption up in the air, and set off along the path up to the cliff entrance. Felix ran a hand through his hair, betraying his fatigue.
She walked up beside him, watching them slowly climb the slope.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"They're putting that thing on the ship. Not only is there no possible use for it, but Piers is going to have a fit," he said wearily.
He glanced down at her, brown locks sliding across his eyes.
"Oh yes. Don't you remember when they put the wings on?" He looked around behind them. "Is everyone okay down here? I'd better go up there."
"Yeah, sure," she said. "We can look after ourselves."
Was that the trace of a self-conscious smile? Felix strode off at a furious pace, quickly breaking into a run. Up above the dwarven party was just disappearing through the crack in the cliff.
The only evil of contentment, Mia decided, was not having a lot of very engrossing thoughts. She was in a general sort of warm fog, strolling randomly through the area the magma ball had opened up. A few feet away, Garet and Sheba had their heads close together, bent over the ground. Amused, she stepped over to find out what they were up to.
"What did you find?"
Garet lay in the dirt, his arm buried in the ground up to his shoulder.
"Nothin'… yet," he grunted. "Isaac says… there's something under here though." He fished around, biting his lip.
"I found a worm," Sheba announced brightly. She held it up between blunt, grubby fingers, the creature twisting and squirming. Mia unconsciously took a step back, shuddering.
"Oh… that's… very nice, Sheba."
Garet froze for a split second, his eyes fixed on her. A lightning glance flashed between him and Sheba. Mia shook her head, backing up, as Garet stealthily pulled his tightly closed fist out of the hole.
"You wouldn't dare."
Garet fought to gain control of a tiny smile playing on his lips.
"What?" he asked innocently.
She just watched him, wide-eyed and suspicious. He shifted and she broke and ran – right as Sheba flung the thing at her chest.
"GAH! Stoppit!" she screamed, narrowly avoiding contact. Garet burst out laughing, racing after her. Sheba, stooping quickly to find her weapon, soon joined the chase.
"Stop it stop. Stop!" she yelled, flinging bursts of water over her shoulder at Garet, who dodged them easily. They cut back and forth across the field, racing around the others. Mia dodged behind Isaac, feinting one way, then the other.
"Isaac, make them stop!"
Isaac straightened up.
"Ga-ret…" The reprimand went wholly ignored, and the chase was on for more frantic minutes.
Finally her pursuers slowed down, still mirthful.
"All right, all right, Mia. Truce," Garet said, hands on his knees. She eyed them warily, checking hands and pockets. No more slimy things appeared to be in evidence, so she relaxed.
"That was so mean," she complained.
"Yeah, you're right. Sorry." But as he and Sheba turned back to their excavation, Mia swore she saw him slap her hand in triumph. She snorted and folded her arms. Those two needed to be kept apart.
"You are so immature sometimes," she muttered to his back, fighting a tiny smile.
Isaac stretched as Garet passed by him again.
"If you two weren't so busy terrorizing Mia, you'd have found what you were looking for by now," he remarked.
"What are we looking for?" Garet said, a shade rebelliously.
"This," Isaac said. He uncurled his palm to reveal a flat, glinting jewel. Mia drew nearer, attracted by the color as the light played through it.
Garet was unimpressed.
"…What is it?"
"…To be honest, I felt it calling to me… but I don't know what it is," Isaac admitted.
"I do," Sheba said, peering at Isaac's hand from eye level. "Felix or Piers could tell you what it's called, but there's a blacksmith in Osenia who can forge it for you. Make swords, armor…"
"Osenia? That's a long ways from here, though," Isaac said, disappointment replacing momentary curiosity.
"Yeah," Sheba shrugged, "but hold on to it anyway. We'll be back there someday."
As Sheba turned Isaac's hand, catching the light in the stone, Mia caught his eye. Isaac gave her a look filled with the same doubt she felt. A cloud seemed to have passed over the sun high ahead, and she gave a brief shiver. Isaac smiled, trying to encourage her, and Garet smacked his hands together.
"All right. I'll get the other one."
Felix sighed, unconsciously running his hand through his hair again. He blinked, and scratched his neck. The chain of decisions that had led him to Loho was becoming more tenuous with every second that he passed listening to Piers and the dwarves bicker. He sat high up on the stern of the ship, far enough away to make it clear he wasn't involved but close enough to intervene if a fight broke out. His chest itched where Acheron had torn at him.
"No. It's staying on land," Piers said firmly for the fourth time. The dwarves shrugged and dropped it on the deck with a painful crunch. Felix winced, feeling the ship shift under the weight.
"Get this damn cannon off my ship!" Piers screamed, waving his arms. "You're marking up the deck!" For the second or third time, it occurred to him to wonder whether Piers was quite fully recovered from his illness.
"We don't want it," the dwarf chieftain replied, cracks in his patience beginning to show. "You'll find a use for it."
Piers managed to control his fury. The red of his face contrasted well with his blue hair, Felix thought, chuckling to himself.
"At least move it over there. The ship is unbalanced! Hey!" But the dwarves had already scrambled off the ship as fast as dignity permitted them. Running to the railing, Piers began rattling off a long string of Lemurian invective, only pausing to think up new insults. While Felix didn't know much of the language, the sailor was clearly an old professional – his first pause came at a minute in. When he ran out of breath, he slumped down in defeat, rubbing futilely at a few of the long, deep score marks in the ship's deck.
"I'm glad Sheba hasn't heard you at your finest," Felix remarked idly.
"Sheba doesn't bother me," Piers said wearily. "Starvation doesn't bother me, nor illness, pain, inconvenience, rain, snow, or the dark. But this is my ship." He ran his fingers through the wounds in the wood a few more times.
"Felix, what are we going to do with this thing?" he said bitterly, walking back to where his friend sat. Felix shrugged, standing. He heard a faint whistle in his breath.
"The rate we're going, we might actually need it for something." Rolling back his sleeves, he helped Piers guide it into the center of the foredeck, and did his best to smooth over the gashes the pair of them left behind, carefully kneading the grain of the wood. Normally he enjoyed the living, firm resistance of wood; now it was slow, hard work. The cannon grated inch by inch across the deck.
When they were finished, they collapsed back onto the rail. The sun was beginning to descend. Felix ached in every muscle. He was so tired, so… so tired…
"So Acheron is gone," Piers said almost casually, leaning back on his arms. Felix kept his mouth shut, trying to stay upright, while Piers tossed him a sharp glance.
"I thought as much," the sailor finally said. "The dark sword lying in the wheelhouse was a fairly obvious clue. Does she know you still have that thing?"
"I didn't know it was going to come back," he said, provoked. The bandage across his ribs itched.
"No," Piers said, "but I bet you suspected it. You're no fool, Felix."
"I'm not going to touch it, Piers," he said. "I won't give up revenge, but I'm not going to touch the sword." That word, that thought, almost seemed to make the wound burn worse. He reached under his shirt discreetly, feeding a bit of healing Psynergy into it.
Piers looked at him oddly. He stared firmly off ahead, tracing the outlines of the cliffs lit by the westering sun.
"A noble gesture," Piers said. "Why are you doing that?"
He sighed and shifted, his breathing shallow and quick. "I don't know. Because I know she's right."
"Lunpa told me a story once, Felix," Piers said absently, "about a Lemurian prophet. He was very famous, and very accurate; the man predicted his own eventual death." After a second, Felix laughed disbelievingly, making eye contact with Piers.
"It was a humorous story," Piers said, smiling in understanding, "but there is a point. Some prophecies are self-fulfilling. I can't help but feel that you're driving yourself into the ground. Who knows? Maybe revenge is all you can live for, because you've made your life so bleak." He raised a finger as Felix stirred. "Let me finish. I know what happened to you, Felix, I've heard the story from places I can feel more sympathy from than from you. Fate and fortune have not done well by you. But I don't believe in fate." He spat over the rail. Felix tried to cut in.
"Piers, I-" …But his friend was holding up a finger.
"Let me tell you another story. It's a story with only two words. My mother."
Felix went perfectly still. His friend had never talked about his mother, not even in sleep. For as long as he lived he would remember that one terrible day in the mocking sunshine, the butterflies dancing over her grave. But even then Piers had resolutely shaken his head when Felix offered assistance. Despairing of a chance to help, he'd shushed Sheba's inquiries, and they'd never discussed it.
"You're not the only one, Felix. It is an ill omen when a man is chosen by the gods, and we have all been chosen. Maybe I've done wrong by you, letting you shoulder all our burdens for so long. If so I am sorry. But you cannot wash your hands of blood in more blood."
Felix stared at the red stains of sunset on the ocean. If Piers brought his mother into this, it was advice to take seriously. Maybe it was time to let it all go.
And then he felt pain, a dull, searing fire up from his chest. He leaned over and turned away from Piers, not wanting his friend to notice. After a second there came a wet trickle seeping down his side, under his clothes.
"Piers," he finally managed to say. "Don't take this from me. I'm going to break." With that, some of the agony lessened, but not enough.
"You're not going to break, Felix. That's what makes you despair. You know you're not weak enough." Felix caught a breath. The pain flared up sharply again. His stifled gasp only made it worse.
"I can't do this," he choked. "I can't take this anymore. I've got nothing left."
"You've got eight people who would die for you," Piers said softly. "Few men are so lucky." After that they fell into silence. Felix tried desperately to control his breathing.
"Forgive me, Felix."
He looked away from the water, confused. Piers hesitated, coughed, and then spoke.
"…Mia… set me an example. Were I as good a friend to you as she, I would have spoken to you of this long ago. Forgive me, Felix. I find that I am old, and weak."
With a heroic effort Felix clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Piers, old friend, there is nothing to forgive." He couldn't find the words to say what he wanted. As if Piers- or anyone - could confront someone during the agony the Lemurian had known.
Piers looked at him for a second and then whipped his gaze out to sea, stifling a suspicious sniff.
Mia, a good friend to him. It was certainly possible. Maybe how she, personally, violently disliked him, personally, had nothing to do with the things a good friend did. It was possible.
You haven't failed today. How easily that comforting glow turned to acid in his mouth. He had failed. He always failed.
The gentle waves rolled up onto shore. Out at the edge of the bay where the land curled in, surf broke in high fury. Felix looked up past the cliffs, the stabbing wound in his chest subsiding to its earlier dull throb. Many miles beyond these rising walls, far from the water and the wet stone, the warm brown mountains rose around Vale.
Odd to think of the pink and white flowers blooming on the mountainside. For it would be spring soon in the rest of the world. He himself was sailing deep into a winter from which he would never return.
As much as he appreciated Mia's help, he still had no answer to his question. He had to get north and save his parents. If he couldn't find a way to get himself killed immediately after that… then what? In any case, as he was now constantly reminded, Acheron was in no hurry to let him go. There wasn't any guarantee he'd live past delivering vengeance.
He shook his head, brushing off the thought. Honestly, he just couldn't let himself think about it. He had to get them safely to Prox. To Prox. That was the goal. Just keep eyes fixed on the goal. Go to Prox.
He wished the pain would stop for just one second so he could think.
Leaving thoughts of his own fate aside for the time being, he retreated to checking their situation for the hundred millionth time. None of the others knew besides himself, Isaac, and Piers, but they were not going to make it all the way north on their remaining fresh water. He'd put in here to restock, but Loho had no water to spare, as an apologetic dwarven quartermaster had explained. Piers knew to make for the last island before the Northern Reaches. They'd gone over this more than enough times. Everyone was healthy and in reasonably good spirits – hah, that was a lie. About half of them were in good spirits. For some reason it felt like he was forgetting something, but he couldn't think what it might be. He felt slow and thick. He shifted, and tried again to stop the bleeding, knowing it was useless.
"She likes you, you know."
Felix was stirred out of his meditation. Lost as he'd been, it took him a second to swim back to the surface.
"Mia likes you," Piers said, watching her pick her way across the beach to the ship. Felix laughed painfully, making his disbelief clear. Piers was his only friend, but sometimes the Lemurian said these things.
Piers shook his head.
"I wouldn't be so sure, Felix."
"Whatever you say," Felix said, and dismissed it. The very idea was absurd.
Beneath their feet, Mia began to scale the side of the ship; when her head poked over the side he grasped her hand and pulled her up.
"Hi, Felix," she said, smoothing down her dress and smiling. "I was going to get some washing done while we're on land."
He smiled unconsciously. She was so helpful. Despite everything. It was the final touch of lunacy on this whole insane comedy.
"Mia, the sun is going to set in about ten minutes."
She looked out to sea, and glanced back to him slightly flustered.
"Yes, but I thought I could just…"
"If you really want to, you can do it in the morning," he said, doing his best to be kind over the punishing beat of his heart. Gravelly and harsh came all too naturally. "We'll stay the night."
Mia smiled, clasping her hands together.
"Okay. I'll go tell the others. Isaac has money."
"On that subject… tell them to stay out of trouble," Felix said. "I suspect we're not exactly well-loved around here."
Mia looked away.
"Um, yeah, Garet kind of… figured that out already." She looked him in the eye and forestalled his next question. "He was digging somewhere he apparently wasn't supposed to, and got chased off. We'll lie low."
"All right. Piers and I will stay with the ship."
"I'll just get a few things," she said, making for the cabin door.
The precise instant it closed behind her Felix became aware that Piers was directing a very significant look at him.
"Well?" he said irritably.
"Well?" Piers said smoothly.
"Piers, knock it off," he said. "I'm trying not to hurt her feelings. I've abused the rest of you enough already." He turned away and began slowly tidying the deck, clearing gear fouled by the passage, coiling ropes and untangling knots. Behind him he heard Piers washing down the deck.
"You don't talk to me that nicely," Piers commented. Felix paused.
"That's because you're so annoying," he said under his breath, and resumed cleaning.
"I heard that. She's pretty cute, isn't she?"
Felix turned around, very nearly fed up with Piers' juvenile behavior, and almost fell over with the effort.
"Who's pretty cute?"
Mia was standing in front of the open door, looking back and forth between them. At one end of the ship, Piers was seized with a sudden coughing fit which sounded suspiciously like laughter. At the bow, Felix attempted to kill him with a look, but couldn't summon the effort.
"No one," he ground out. Not surprisingly, Mia wasn't satisfied with this, so he quickly turned back around before the questions could start. If he heard Piers start whispering to Mia he swore he would murder him.
"Well, um, good night then," she finally said.
"*ahem* Good night," Piers said.
"Good night," he grunted over his shoulder. He still had something important to tell Mia. Sheba had interrupted them earlier. …But Piers was here now, still trying to subdue his mirth, and hearing Felix ask for a private talk with Mia was the last encouragement he needed. It would have to wait. While he was still deliberating Mia scraped down the ladder and was gone.
"So you'll let them stay out there, huh?"
"We won't get much farther tonight," Felix said. He stared out across the stones. Alex was walking back up to the settlement, long blue hair waving in the sunset. Wait, no, that was Mia. Or was it Alex? Menardi always cracked jokes about his girly hair when he wasn't listening. He smiled.
Piers' face swam into sight.
"Hey, Felix!" He paused and frowned. "You don't look very good."
There were little fireflies floating at the edge of Felix's vision. They vanished when he tried to look at them.
"I'm going to go…sleep," he muttered, summoning the last of his consciousness. Carefully navigating through the oddly tiny door, he stumbled down the cabin stairs and looked down the long hallway. His bedroom was right past Saturos', on the… the right side. He made it as far as the door of the bedroom, and then the universe filled his eyes, black and full of stars.
Mia strolled lazily to the crest of the long ramp into the mines and stopped. From right here near the top, she could see across the very top of a vast orange-stained forest, rolling up, miles and miles away, into a golden snowcapped peak. Beyond that one single spire the mountains rose in bold ranks, sinking off into the distance. Somewhere, nestled among their feet, lay Isaac's home, Felix's home. Somewhere far beyond that, across long lonely stretches of barren waste, lay her home of Imil. She was in no hurry to leave a sight so breathtaking, and for a second was content just to let the splendor of the scene overwhelm her. Once again she knew the weight of all the miles they'd trod. Now, though, that reflection was added to by the knowledge that the end was near.
In this tiny excavation, the last remains of a civilization desperately clinging to this barren coast, she could feel the final lighthouse looming. They were too close for comfort now, and their voyage was turning back into the grim race it always had been. But finally she shook it off. Tonight was a respite from the ocean, from the world, from the Lighthouses, and she would take advantage of it. The clouds above gradually fell from burning red to purple. When her legs began to ache she sat against the wall of the cliff, drawing her knees into her, and turned her eyes upward. At last the stars began to shine through the last rags of sky, and she stirred. A small figure was making its way up the path toward her, and she saw it was Sheba, arms folded tightly against her.
She was just about to call out when the younger girl caught sight of her and came over.
"Hi, Mia," she said, clearly tired.
"Hi yourself," Mia said fondly. "Going to the ship?"
"Yeah. I'd…I'd rather sleep there. Isaac said it's okay," she pleaded.
"It's fine, Sheba. Sleep wherever you want. Can you get back by yourself?" Mia asked.
"Yeah, I'll be okay," she said, but the unnerving thought of the dark, quiet beach was hiding behind her eyes. Mia stood up, brushing herself off.
"I'll walk with you. Do you mind?"
"…Uh, if you want to, I guess," Sheba said with unconcealed relief.
They proceeded down the dark, close tunnel together, opening out onto the rocky shore. Mia smiled at the sound of the surf, eternally lapping at the land. The dark bulk of the ship crouched on the pebbles, silhouetted against the ocean. Together they walked in silence, proceeding until the long ladder up the ship loomed over their heads. Then Sheba turned to her.
"I'll be okay from here."
"All right," she said. "Good night, Sheba."
"Good night, Mia," Sheba said sleepily, lifting herself aloft in a flash of purple. Mia blinked. Some trick she must have picked up along the way. That was probably frequently useful.
Mia turned off the ramp, the only sounds her footsteps and the quiet chink of a hammer somewhere in the depths of the mine. Here and there, single torches burned, creating a peaceful, if slightly eerie effect. She walked toward the door of the inn. Underneath the lamp outside, Isaac leaned against the wall, his shadow flaring out before him. He nodded warmly as she came up to him.
"Hi, Isaac." She looked around. "Where's Jenna?"
"Playing cards with Garet, as far as I know," he said. Then he smiled, and she envied Jenna the quiet, comfortable bliss that it showed. "We caught up with each other earlier today."
"That's nice," she said. She pushed her shoulders into the wall next to him, looking out over Loho.
"So, how have you been, Isaac?" she asked.
"I'm doing okay," he said thoughtfully. "How about you?"
"Much better, as of very recently," she smiled. The darkness ebbed and flowed around their little pool of light.
"I've been thinking about him. Do you remember when we learned he'd survived?" Isaac said.
"Yeah, I do." They hadn't known what to do with themselves, after Venus Lighthouse. They'd seen the ancient stones crumble to the ground, made the heart-pounding race through the door and out to safe ground. And then…they'd just stayed in Lalivero. No one questioned Isaac's unwillingness to just begin the trek home. It was as if they'd known they weren't through yet.
"And Ivan felt him, that night."
They'd scrambled along the plateau, crossed the strait, run for days as if lives depended on it through the great forests and sands. And they'd reached the little spit of land, and Felix had been gone, his tracks long cold.
"Yeah, I remember." She remembered.
"You know, Mia, I realized the other day. We succeeded after all. We caught up to him."
"So we did, Isaac. So we did."
"I'm glad he's got rid of that thing. Even after all he's done… when we were up on the lighthouse, and I thought…I thought he was gone…" he trailed off, unable to finish. Mia looked at him in concern.
"Isaac, we went over all this dozens of times. Why bring it up again?"
"I don't know," he said. "Sometimes I just need to talk about it." He sighed again. "I – I've just been thinking a lot lately." Mia controlled the urge to ruffle his hair. It came and went.
Before he could continue she cut him off. His words had brought up something she had to say.
"Isaac," she said. "Haven't you noticed how much he's changed, even in these few days?"
"I actually have," he said, smiling at some inner joke. "Why?"
"I…I need your help, Isaac." This was so hard to say. "He's… I think he's going to try to die somewhere before this is all over." She felt a suspicious hotness behind her eyes. Isaac sighed.
"So you know about that as well. I suspected something like that."
She pushed down the emotion threatening to overwhelm her and swallowed.
"Isaac, please. I want… I want to bring him back …with us."
She felt Isaac's hand catch hers up, felt his gentle pressure.
"We will, Mia. I promise." He squeezed and then let go, and they stood side by side in the dark, watching the torches burn.
"You saw him on the ship just now, right?" Isaac asked. "How did he look?"
"He's got something on his mind again," she said. "I could tell he wasn't really listening to me."
"Whatever it is," Isaac said with a slight chuckle, "I'm sure you'll get it out of him."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded, turning and looking up into his face.
"Nothing, nothing. Just an observation," Isaac said. Not knowing exactly what she wanted to force out of him, she let it sink to rest. At least, she tried to – then she noticed that some part of her was having an entirely different reaction to Isaac's teasing. Mia sunk into a furious argument with herself, trying to crush the feeling every time it bobbed up. Trying to stay angry and aloof, and realizing she was losing. Finally Isaac saved her with a breath.
"I used to look up to him so much," he whispered. "And I think" – his voice grew audible "-I was silly. I know. But I always thought, in the back of my mind, that he wasn't really going along with them, that everything was going to work out. He'd take it off my hands and explain it all and we'd all go home."
"I know what you mean, Isaac," she said softly.
"So really I just didn't want to have to grow up," he said sarcastically.
"None of us did," she said. "I didn't either." And with those words the tears that had been threatening her earlier finally filled her eyes. She couldn't speak another word. Isaac rubbed her shoulder in sympathy.
"…I'm sorry, Isaac," she managed to say after a while.
"It's okay, Mia," he said, dropping his hand. "It's tough for all of us."
"Do you think we're going to make it?" she said.
"Of course we are, Mia," he said reassuringly. "We're all on the same side now. Nothing's going to be able to stop us." She thought of Piers' lifeless body, her attempts to heal him in vain, but nevertheless was comforted.
"I'm done whining," he finally said. "Let's go in. We can talk to the others." Taking her by the arm, he led her in to the warmth of the building.
Jenna was fast asleep, as it turned out. Garet explained that it was the effect of not being on the water anymore, and proved his point with a huge yawn.
"Makes us feel a lot safer."
"Well, before you go to bed, Garet, I wanted to talk to you guys," Isaac said.
"Nah, nah, I'm awake," Garet said, blinking. Ivan sat up in the corner.
"Listen, I was just talking with Mia, and I kinda realized something. We're all still friends. We're a band of heroes, right?" he said, smiling. "We've got to stick together, you guys, now more than ever. There's less than a hundred miles of this left. We can do it." His voice rose in energy as he spoke. Garet raised a fist.
"That's the spirit. I'm with you, buddy."
Ivan nodded. When she looked around, she saw a hint of the old fire in their eyes.
"We're all still in this," Isaac said. "Felix and the others need our help, and we're a team from now on. Felix got rid of the sword. He's willing to meet us, and we're taking him up on it. All right?" He looked around.
"Put your hands in here."
She laid her hand on his, felt it covered by Garet's huge warm palm, Ivan's frail hand on top. And in that moment, as silly as it sounded, she really felt cheered. The dark ghosts circling around them had been beaten off for this short space of time. She found a seat in the corner, Garet slumping back down onto his bed and Ivan resuming his spot on the floor.
"Thanks, guys," Isaac said, looking as heartened as she felt.
"Hey, so," Garet said. "We're all here together for once. Let's talk about something more fun."
"What did you have in mind?" Isaac asked, playing the straight man.
"How about that time Mia took a bath in public in the middle of the day?" Garet said mischievously.
"Ugh." She dropped her head into her palms. "Won't you ever stop going on about that?"
"Greatest day of my life," Garet said. "So far. That poor innkeeper didn't know whether to run us out of town or sell tickets."
"It wasn't the middle of the day," she said, knowing she was blushing. "It was seven o'clock in the morning. The sun was barely up."
"Details," Garet said dismissively.
"And I wasn't in public. There was a spring right behind the inn," she said.
"Which was used for drinking water," Isaac said, laughing.
"I didn't know that, okay? There was no one else awake in the whole town!"
"Except for the …innkeeper…hahaha, oh gods," Garet hooted, rolling flat on his back laughing hysterically. To his credit, Isaac was at least trying to control himself.
"Oh yeah?" she shot back. "I can think of hundreds of stupid things you did. How about that time you guys tried to build a ship?"
"What, the Drunken Lily (may she rest in peace)?" Garet said, sitting up. "Hey, how were we supposed to know there was a ferry across the Kalay Sea, huh?"
"Go to the office, where, you know, they sell tickets?" she said. "Like I did?"
"Listen," Ivan said, "That was the greatest ship ever built with no hand tools or previous experience. May she rest in peace."
"Yeah, we did a great job on that thing," Isaac said. "We were working on oars."
"When it sank," Mia said. The other three put a hand over their hearts in unison.
"May she rest in peace," they intoned.
"While I bought us tickets on the ship that didn't sink when you tried to use it. Also singlehandedly picked a rowing crew."
Garet looked up.
"You know what? That hurts, Mia. You leave me no choice but to bring up… the Lamakan Desert."
Mia groaned. She should know better than to keep getting sucked into this argument. Garet had rehearsed this scene so many times he was pretty good at acting it by now - in the most extravagantly dramatic way possible.
"OH," he moaned, rocking around and tearing at the collar of his shirt, "I'm SO SWEATY AND HOT!"
Ivan smiled despite himself.
"PLEASE, SOMEONE, FETCH MY CHANGE OF CLOTHES! WATTTEEEEEERRRR! OH NO, IT'S ACTUALLY A GIANT BUG! HELP!"
She did her best to stand on her dignity, but faced with Garet at his finest the footing was slippery indeed. Finally she broke down and laughed along with the others, and Garet immediately desisted, breaking out into his hearty guffaw.
"Ahhahaha, that was wonderful. Oop- what?" He reached out behind him and pulled a plump Mars Djinn out on his palm. "Knock it off, you." The creature disappeared in a flash of light. They laughed for a bit longer, lapsing into a comfortable silence.
"So," she said eventually, thinking to her talk with Isaac earlier. "What do you guys want to do when this is all over?"
They shifted thoughtfully.
"I'd like to find a girl, settle down," Garet said.
"Oh really?" Mia said, grinning. "Anyone in mind?"
He shook his head.
"Nope. Not yet. It's not exactly unrealistic, though. I am supposed to be the mayor of Vale after this."
She'd almost forgotten. Garet hadn't mentioned that in a long time.
"Oh yeah," Isaac said, "You were supposed to be learning about life this whole time. Too bad you haven't learned anything."
"I learned not to bathe in public," Garet shot back. Isaac started laughing again.
"Yeah, when you're the Mayor, don't do that. Good life lesson, buddy." He sighed. "Besides, you're not going anywhere until you fix Kay's flower garden."
"That was two years ago!" Garet said indignantly, shooting up in his seat. "She's probably…okay, she probably hasn't forgotten all about it, but still."
Mia turned to Ivan.
"Ivan, what are you going to do? Are you going back to Master Hammet?"
Ivan jumped and shook his head, startled out of his thoughts.
"Oh! …Um, no. No," he said, with definite relief.
"Because I thought earlier when I asked you…"
"That was before we'd met my sister," he said with a soft grin. "Now I have somewhere much better to go."
She smiled and let him sink back into oblivion.
He didn't speak again until they'd turned out the lights and lay in the warm, close darkness together. Then Ivan cleared his throat, breaking her still reflections.
"Isaac, about what you said when you came in."
"…Yeah?" came Isaac's voice.
"We're not exactly going to get a parade when we reach home, you know."
In the silence that followed she felt a chill across her cheek.
"We're all in this with Felix, whether we'd like to be or not. For what it's worth, I believe him, but-"
"Shut up, Ivan," Isaac burst out roughly.
In the silence that followed that she felt a hard lump of ice drop into her stomach. She sat up, throwing off her blanket at about the same time Garet and Isaac did.
"What was that for?" Garet demanded.
"I-I'm sorry, Ivan," Isaac mumbled, sheepish. "It's just… that oath. It's been on my mind a lot lately."
"Oh," Garet's silhouette said, the anger abruptly drained from his tone. He flopped back down into bed. "Oh. I …kinda forgot about that."
Isaac wrapped his hands around his knees.
"Yeah, Garet," said Ivan. "Isaac, I don't blame you. I should have trusted you to think about it. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Isaac said.
Mia frowned. Isaac had sworn …to stop Felix. Dear Mercury, not this again.
"So, wait, we're not going to light the lighthouse after all this?"
"No, we are," Isaac said heavily. "But as Ivan pointed out, it's not as simple as I could have wished." He rolled over onto his side.
"What are we gonna do?" Garet asked.
"…Honestly? I don't have any idea." Isaac chuckled bitterly. "Maybe we can wait at the bottom of the lighthouse and race up the steps at the last second."
"I'm sorry, Ivan," Isaac said.
"It's okay, Isaac."
Mia sat curled up just a bit longer, and then lay back down, staring up into the colder, more unfriendly darkness. She rolled one hand into a fist. It just wasn't fair.
Thanks for reading.
A couple notes on the quotations. First, you'd be surprised how much dialogue, period, there is in these games. There's a lot. I remembered it as being mostly silent, but I'm wrong.
Second, you'd be surprised how much of that dialogue is perfectly appropriate to the themes and ideas I'm doing a terrible job exploring. I've got literally four pages of quotes from mains, minors, and angsty, sorrowful, desperately hopeful NPCs, most of which I will never use. I'm considering posting the leftovers as an epilogue of sorts.