Hey, I am JUST as shocked as you are!
Before you read, before you review (assuming you want to), before you even look down too far:
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but there are some of you who may recognize this story. I started it quite a few years ago and since its beginning has gone through many long gaps between chapters.
Let it be perfectly clear that this will be the last of it. When I started this I had intended for there to be two parts, but I'll level with all of you—I was unable to gather the desire, the willpower, or even a clear idea as to how to make that second part fall into place. So some of you who read this in the past may think I'm being lazy, cheap or inconsiderate by wrapping this whole thing up in a single final chapter after years of not only not writing anything, but not even giving any real sort of feedback.
And you'd most likely be right. Then again, it may not have occurred to you people, because it's just a damned fan-fiction. Nevertheless, I do feel the need to apologize to anyone whose time I've wasted or anyone I may have disappointed. All I can really say is life just got in the way. Somewhere along the line, I just lost my spontaneity with writing, and my own, original stuff has suffered as well, despite the fact that the quality of my work, I feel, has gotten better.
I won't point anyone out or even try to spread the blame for lack of inspiration, but honestly, browsing for more fan-fiction and fan-art hasn't exactly inspired me these past few years. In fact, fandom as a whole has driven me away…to an extent, the games themselves have hindered me. I mean, it's difficult for me to continue to write a story that depicts Krystal as a sweet and considerate character when the concept of her becoming a Star Wolf floozy or some ridiculous attempt at the femme fatale type (if you're a fan of Kursed, why did you even read this?). Then again, I suppose all that's unlikely to get carried over to the next game, but…it just did not speak well for the character, in my opinion, and with her popularity it's gotten very hard for me to like her.
Still, I felt that I had to finish this at some point, no matter how bad or delayed, merely for the principle. Also, I don't want to hear any "That's it!?" or "What a jip!" when getting feedback, even if I do deserve it.
So yes, in short—that's the end, there is no more. I apologize in advance. I may write more in the future, but considering my...record, I wouldn't count on it. I must admit, though, it's a HUGE relief to have finally tackled this ridiculous piece.
If you're wondering, as time went on, I HAD thought of adding some of the more recent characters...but as I pushed myself, I decided I didn't want to expend any more time on going back and inserting characters. I feared it was too little too late. So in case you've forgotten, this is taken after Adventures, alludes to Assault a bit, but does not really take the last two games into effect.
Thanks for reading...and again, I apologize.
Final Chapter: Close Your Eyes
The sound of rustling waters and foam shifting against sand drifted Krystal from her land of dreams into her current situation. As the waves in the distance ebbed, her dreamy conscious drifted away with it. Her eyes cracked open and her ears perked, but the fox girl remained motionless; she had removed her original armor and put on a large T-shirt and the smallest pair of sweat-shorts she could find in Fox's room (which were still big on her), but the aches of her most recent endeavor still gripped at her bones, making her muscles soft and weary.
"Ugh…morning already?" she said with a light, broken voice as she rubbed her eyes and levied her upper body. As the fog of sleep was swept from her vision, she could see the bright ocean from outside Fox's window. Just a few yards away, a huge docking board reached out alongside the row of buildings, which shone like porcelain in the midst of the late morning rays. "Oh my…how long was I asleep?" she said as she hopped out of the small bed, the recognition of the sun's position giving her a small jolt of awareness; she feared she had overslept, and that the boys had left her.
The fox girl quickly straightened out the white sheets, slipped on her sandals and walked out Fox's door. Her legs wiggled like rubber, and she put her hand against the walls, her nails sliding against the metal as she passed. With every step she became more uneasy; all the rooms were empty, and she could not even sense the presence of another anywhere near her. Surely this was Corneria, and the boys had all woken up and gotten about their business, leaving her to sleep—not what she wanted for a first impression.
Her fears of being alone were confirmed as she approached the main room at the head of the ship; she could already see the corners of empty chairs. Then, as she came closer, an unusual collection of sounds alien to her senses came into her ears. Curious, her slow trudging through the hall turned into a swift trot to the main room as the buzzing, screwing and flaring sounds amplified. She approached the glass window of the hull and saw several other spacecrafts line up underneath an enormous metal shell. A small hoard of men in baggy black clothes were scattered all about, some hauling in parts, some talking to what Krystal could assume were customers, and some swarming around the ships, opening, inspecting and adjusting. Cerinian biotechnology never required maintenance, not of the conventional sense, but she had done enough traveling to realize she was looking at a giant garage.
"Okay! Let's get down to business!" cried a high-pitched voice. Even from her high position, the voice made the vixen jump in her steps. She put her hand on the glass and looked down, seeing Slippy and ROB standing in front one of the garage's mechanics. The toad had added a layer of boisterousness to his voice, as though trying to convince the mechanic, whom Krystal could not hear from her distance, of something. "Normally I prefer to do my own work, but I don't have the materials or the time to fix such a massive ship like the Great Fox all by myself. So…yeah…yeah, it has three plasma engines, I need you to take a look at those…no, the communications array and hologram transmitters work fine, I installed those myself, thank you very much! …No, yeah, I do need you to rework the shield generators, how much is that? …What!? Get out of here…"
Krystal never had the need to learn the ways of alien technology, so she only had a vague understanding of what words Slippy was spewing out. It may be time to learn, it had occurred to her, as her ship, and indeed all Cerinian ships, were merely transportation devices with near-infinite fueling, and as far as she knew, they were not compatible with foreign attachments. The fox girl continued to watch Slippy haggle with a now frustrated mechanic, and a giggle escaped her mouth, immediately causing a small ripple of surprise within her. She was in a world far different from her own, but she felt a constant presence of happiness overlooking her. Within the past few hours, her beliefs and sense of being had been called into question, and yet, at this moment, she felt things could come to full circle after all. This feeling of acceptance, her willingness to start over—perhaps that, in itself, was enough proof that the two planets shared a bond. It may be a rough transition, she thought, but after so long, it may be nice for a change.
With a smile, she headed back the way she came in search of the Great Fox's nearest exit. She may have overslept, but she could think of no reason for the guys to be upset at any way, judging by the kindness they have given her within this small amount of time since they all met.
The hangar's hatch in the back of the ship was held wide open, and though it was a small venture from one end of the mothership to the other, the fox girl was relieved to have the clean, open air of the outside world rush through her senses. The breeze from the ocean whirled across the wide planes of sand and came to her, caressing her white and blue face. As the faint hint of salt flared through her nose, a once diluted image resurfaced from the waters of her mind.
Having been awakened by the outside, she was able to recall the dream she had just hours ago; she dreamt of her early days as a wanderer, of a long and winding childhood spent lost and alone. Within those images of desolation, though, came a single silhouette; the very seem of its form and face made Krystal's face bloom in surprise. It was as though the valves in her body had just been released, allowing blood and life to flow throughout; as though she had been sleeping until that very moment.
"That's right," she cooed to herself, "I had a dream about Iris last night…" She had not even thought about her old mentor for a long time; up until that moment, her image was just a blur of soft shades of blue and white, drifting in the back of her mind like a passing fog. It was almost like all those ghosts of her kinfolk, she thought, were gone, but not free; imprisoned in her psyche, the memories of an old existence, left to linger in the dark area of her soul she dare not trespass. But the events of the previous night unveiled those desolate corners of her inner being. Surely, she thought, the memories she so desperately tried to repress for the past few years were all flooding back. Because of last night, because of that ship, because of that man...
"It's…all because of Fox," her inner thoughts escaped her body once more, as if she would not have been able to process the concept if she had muttered it in her mind. "If not for Fox, who knows how long I'd be alone out there, trying to find something…something I've just been trying to forget."
The uttering of his name made the vixen recall the previous night further, and how its end was not as satisfying as she would have liked. She remembered the kindness and concern in the face as when she first saw him had somehow been drained upon the encounter with Sappho. In such a short time, his expression had become listless, his brow furrowed with grief. Krystal clutched her heart, trying in vain to process her conflicting emotions. What had caused Fox to become so distant in such a short time, she did not know, but she was sure it had something to do with her, and if that was indeed the case, she would have to be the one to help him. After all, she thought, it would be the least she could do after he saved her on Dinosaur Planet.
With a newfound sense of purpose, the fox girl found her way out of the massive ship and walked into the garage, caution and worry hanging about her. Not wanting to interfere with the bustling and rushing of the mechanics within, Krystal slowly pressed onward, her arms glues to her sides. She left her eyes free to wander, though, scanning every tile and mechanism until they came to an end at the docks.
Emerging from the shadow cast by the metal hull which loomed over a wide bridge of wooden boards, she allowed her muscles to unhinge again, the tension in her body melted by the salty breeze. Upon her entrance to the docks, she quickly spotted a familiar figure, short and wide with a long jacket with a fluffy tail sticking by the end, rested by the bridge's end. She stood hesitant for moment, directly behind him; she could sense the contemplative aura surrounding him, and that his mind was drifting to far off places, much like the ebbing waves. Krystal started to back away to leave him in peace, but the hare's ears twitched at the sound of her feet against the wooden floor, like a pair of sensitive antennae.
"Hmm?" said the hare as he shifted his head, spotting the vixen. "Oh, Krystal! You're awake!"
"Yes, I'm…sorry I slept for so long."
"Oh, it's no problem. We're not exactly busy right now. We're just…finalizing the payment for our ship's repair."
"Yes, I overheard Slippy 'bargaining' from the ship."
The old hare chuckled. "Aha! Yeah, he'll do that. He's a bit of a fanatic with this type of thing."
"Um…have you seen Fox, by chance?"
"I'm sorry, he's not around. He up and left as soon as we boarded without so much as telling us where he was going. I even sent Falco to go look for him…that was about half an hour ago."
"Don't worry, he'll turn up sooner or later…" At that moment of quiet, Peppy became aware that the vixen had donned an oddly familiar piece of clothing. "Is that…Fox's shirt?"
"Oh! I, um…" Krystal crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to take it, it's just…"
"No, no, it's fine. I would've suggested you borrow something anyway. After all, your outfit was…not suited for…for this weather…"
"It's all right, Peppy. I know I would stick out here."
"Ah…well, now I'M the one who's sorry," said Peppy, trying to hide his embarrassment with a light chuckle.
"I understand. I've been wandering the galaxy for so long, I've…never really 'fit in' anywhere, for one reason or another…"
"I see…" the old hare's ears twitched again. The girl was clearly uneasy and needed some positive reassurance. "Krystal, I'm sure I speak for the entire Star Fox team when I say we will do everything we can for you. I'll fill out a few forms, and after a couple weeks of training, you'll be one of us…like a family." Peppy paused, unsure if he was using such friendly terms too hastily. But he looked at the fox girl's bluish white face, a swirling pool of emotions, stepped forward and continued. "That…IS what you want, isn't it?" Krystal's head perked up, as if she was not expecting such a question, but she instinctively nodded. "Okay, good. And really, you're timing couldn't have been better. I've been wanting to retire for a while, and Fox practically brings me a replacement!"
"A replacement…" the vixen said under her breath, "Peppy, if I may ask…you all are…rather famous here, are you not?"
Peppy straightened his pose and stuck out his chest, a sense of self-satisfaction on his face. "As far as mercenaries who save the entire galaxy go, yes, we are pretty well-known."
"Do you think that…the people of your world will…accept me? I mean…you've all been together for quite a while, and here I am…coming from nowhere…is this acceptable?"
"Ah, funny thing about that," replied the hare in a hearty tone, "The four of us don't make up the original team. It was actually me, Fox's father, and an old friend who ended up betraying us. I don't think I need to tell you what happened."
"No, no, it's okay. It was a long time ago. But that's the thing—even families can change. Time passes and…the other three are still spring chickens, but my time has passed. I'll be keeping my eye on all of you, of course. Behind the scenes, if you will, but as far as action goes, it's time I stepped down. Not exactly aging gracefully, you know!"
Peppy tried to maintain an air of good humor, but upon seeing Krystal's blank and unsure stare remained vigilant upon her face, he let out a sigh. "Look, you have nothing to worry about. You know as well as I do that nothing remains the same. After the…incident that broke up the original team, Fox made a new one, and in time, people accepted it. People had their doubts at first, but he proved them wrong. He knew there was no point in worrying about what the world around him might think, there…never really is a point, you know? He had to do what was right. He had to save his home…our home…and that's what he did. That was all that mattered. If people don't accept it…well, then it's only their fault for being so stubborn."
"But…is THIS…what's right? I mean, we've only known each other for a few hours…my flying experience is minimal and it's not even with the same kind of…"
The old hare chuckled again, but with less force. "Heh, over the years, I've learned to trust Fox's intuition. If he wants you on the team, that's good enough for me. Besides, we're mercenaries, not soldiers. There's no specific quota for experience or abilities."
Knowing Peppy was doing his best to lift her spirits, Krystal's unwavering melancholy began to lift. She perked up her head and looked out at the sea. "Well, I…suppose I could be of some help on ground missions…I am rather fast…"
"That's the spirit! Like I said, we'll get you in training, and before long you'll be better than half the Cornerian military!"
"And I…well, I didn't say much before, but…Cerinians had a…certain abilities that allow us to be in tune with the thoughts and emotions of others. Perhaps…I could be of more use with that?"
"Hmm…I knew your race was apparently more spiritually receptive, but I had no idea you were telepathic."
"Yes, well…actually, only a few of my people have such a gift…when I was young, I was sent away to be instructed by one of the high elders because I showed signs of having it. The staff I had is an artifact from before the making of the pact, I was only given it after I had proven myself."
"That's very…interesting," said the hare as he rubbed his chin, "You know, only one person from the Lylat System has ever been known to travel to your world before it was destroyed, and he never gave us any information like that…maybe you were able to survive…for a reason."
"Perhaps…losing my home and everyone I've ever known hurts, but…since I was sent away to train I didn't really know my family, so I imagine it doesn't hurt as much as it could've…" Krystal stood silent for a moment, a strong gust of wind running its salty fingers through her hair. Her ears shifted downward and her eyes widened in symmetry, as though connected by levers. "Wait, someone from this world…went to Cerinia? I never knew that…"
"It's a little-known fact, but over a hundred years ago, a man named Tybert Lynch was able to cross the threshold to your planet…he came back once and shared what he had learned, but…shortly left again and never came back. Guess he was happier there."
"I see. Then he was long dead before I was even born."
"Yes, and he…well, this part I'm not as sure of, there's so little on the subject, but…it's rumored he had children with someone from that planet, and left them here when the Cerinians wouldn't accept them. Cornerians are so varied, it's virtually impossible to plainly see individual genetics without some sort of test…"
"So it's possible…that there's a family in this world that has some Cerinian blood?"
"It's a distinct possibility."
The hare noticed that the girl seem to drift back to her foggy state and further away from their place on the dock. Her eyes were clouded, arms hanging carelessly against the breeze. He sighed, believing at first she was bored. "I'm sorry, Krystal, I have a…bad habit of prattling on about anything. Why don't we go see how Slippy's doing and we can—"
"I…need to see Fox."
The hare stumbled in his thoughts. "Oh! I'm sorry, but he hasn't come back yet."
"Then…I'll go look for him."
"I already sent Falco."
"I'll find both of them…I think I'm familiar enough with their thought patterns to seek them out."
"I…don't think that's a very good idea, Krystal. Fox went into the city, and it's VERY big and crowded."
"I don't care. I…I need to speak with him immediately!"
"Krystal, don't!" Peppy shouted with his stubby arm outreached to grab her, but by the time his short grasp had fully extended, she had already dashed away. The wooden boards shuddered under the weight of his feet as he made a desperate attempt to catch up. His short, stocky legs carried him to the entrance of the city, where the bit of blue that remain in his spectrum was diluted in a rush of small, scrambling flying ships. "Ugh, I wasn't kidding when I said I wasn't aging well!" The breath strung from out his body, he threw his hands on his knees in surrender, hunched over and began to pant. "What's gotten into that girl? Why is everyone so upset all of a sudden?"
"Peppy!" the toad's spry voice popped from behind the hare. He wiggled and huffed as he run up to Peppy's place next to the streets. "What's the matter? I heard you yell."
"Ah! I was…Krystal and I were…talking, and…she ran off…she said she needed to, to…see Fox right away. I told her he had left and he'd come back eventually but…she wouldn't listen."
"Oh no! Why would she do that? Those two sure are acting weird today."
"You're right…" said Peppy as he hoisted himself back upright. "Fox and Krystal have been…a bit distraught…since we got off from that ship. Yes, I'm sure of it."
"Do you think something happened on that strange old ship?"
"Well, it WAS a haunted Cerinian ship. I'm really not that surprised Krystal's become so unhappy. But Fox seemed just as upset this morning, if not more so…could it really have disturbed him that much?"
"Fox sure didn't seem disturbed when Andross came back from the dead…I dunno, I think it's something else."
The distance between Krystal and her two friends she left at the docks stretched further with every pounding step she took. As the patch of grass at the dock's end gave way to sterling pavements, the alien vixen threw herself into the mass of metal and people, her bright blue fur becoming a speck in the urban cloud of grey and white. As she lost momentum the blurs in her eyes were cleared away. Hoards of buildings jutted from the ground, piercing the sky like giant needles. The aliens, resembling herself somewhat in body shape but with darkened faces were uttering a similar language in a clutter of shouts and clamors, bunching together to obscure her path.
"Fox!" she cried out, her voice wandering about in conjunction with her feet—around the corners where luminous signs hung and edges of railways where compact ships flooded back and forth. She called out his name over and over, but as she delved deeper into the chamber of silver and neon, her voice shriveled up and got lost in the chorus of humming engines and blasting jets, conducted by wide, sparkling screens plastered on the pinnacles of the buildings.
"Fox! Fox, where are you?" her voice cracked, water gathering in the corners of her eyes.
"Hey, watch it, lady!" a jarring voice blasted at her, coupled with a swift shove against the vixen's shoulder by a cold, indifferent hand. The shock sent Krystal back several steps, stretching her uneasiness into a foggy and uncertain daze. Still, a single spark of determination remained center in her mind, even as the rest became clouded with confusion and fluster by the metropolis. With the focus she managed to muster from the image of her goal, she picked out the warmest face she could find in the crowd within a minute's time, walked up to it and gently gripped its shoulder.
"E-excuse me! By chance, do you know of someone named Fox McCloud?"
"Ah! What a dumb question!" Was the answer given to Krystal with a high-pitched, snarling voice that echoed as the initially warm face turned to a curdled and cringed expression. "Everybody knows him."
"Oh…well…yes, of course. I was wondering…might he have passed through here recently? Might you or…anyone know where he is?"
"Wow, what an even dumber question," the woman snapped back, "There are five thousand people in this city, and even if I could pinpoint his location, I doubt he'd want to waste time with a space case like you. Now beat it! …And by the way, you look ridiculous in that outfit." And with an airy laugh, the woman with the supposedly warm face morphed back into the ever-shifting crowd. The blue fox girl stood motionless underneath an unlit lantern that hung high over a street corner. She felt little sting from the words of the stranger, as she had heard much harsher words thrown at her in the past. She had hoped that the people of Fox's planet would be more understanding like him, but the disappointment she felt was a mere knick in her numbing outer shell. The continuous clutter of impatient voices, rough stamps of feet and blurring whizzes of ships told the vixen that she had no chance of receiving help or even a quiet moment for concentration.
Disheartened by the overwhelming stature of the city and the uncooperative nature of its inhabitants, Krystal realized she would not be able to focus long enough to find Fox on her own. "I…need some quiet," she thought, "I can't go back to the docks, it's too far away…but I can't make out Fox's thought patterns with all this…noise." Bent on seeking some solitude, her wide, teal eyes scattered about, rolling over every skyscraper and floating billboard in her field of vision. She placed her hands on her heart and felt the slowed palpitation as she eased her breathing. With every slowed and calmed breath that shifted through the opened nostrils of her petite black nose, the vixen was able to push the clutter and clamor of voices and ships from out of her mind. In an instant, the folds of her brain generated a shield of quiet that blocked itself from the outside noise, siphoning out the other, distracting thoughts that had been coursing throughout the fox girl's mind. Keeping to the far end of the sidewalk and her eyelids sealed shut, she stepped through the city with a serene expression, nimbly avoiding any contact with the residents.
As a solemn peace and stillness fully covered her mind, a series of beat began to rise from the quiet, flowing with the sound of her own heart. Falling deeper into concentration, her steps becoming slower, the beats became clearer like firm strikes to a drum. Another breath, and she stopped all movement; her ears twitched, an antennae to all the heartbeats that encompassed the city. From the single steady core of the city's chorus stemmed a stream of twinkling, busy notes. Where the heartbeats pounded in a steadfast and uniform motion, the second layer burst in a ripple of loose and free-motion rhythms, swirling in the atmosphere in a distinct pattern all its own.
The shield in Krystal's mind gave her a vision from within her body, a sight that filtered through the limited mechanics of her body. Her wide ears opened to their greatest extent and moved from side to side along with the patterns of the hearts and thoughts of every person around her. Each individual released a string of beats that fluttered in the ether, each different, if only slightly, but each rooted from the same steady motion of their hearts.
With an elongated breath, however, the vixen detected in her wide field of mental sight a small pocket of emptiness, an area within the city that did not have nearly as many beats as all the others. Krystal's concentration shook with happiness—with an isolated space, she would have a much easier time picking out Fox's signature among the hundreds of hearts and minds going off all at once.
"What luck!" she thought to herself, her face glowing with self-satisfaction. "I'll just make my way over there…I hope I'm allowed inside, it's the only chance I have of finding Fox…unless, of course, he's left…He was so upset last night, he didn't even want to talk to me about it. It must've been my fault, somehow…he didn't get that way until after Sappho. Did she say or do something I didn't notice?" She extended her arm against the walls as she past each new building. As she sensed the empty pocket near her, her hand came upon a wide and rounded set of glass doors upon a small, white building wedged between two towers. She lowered her head and sighed, her elated expression fading, as she allowed herself in. "I just hope he hasn't changed his mind about me and letting me on the team…No…no, I can't think like that…I don't know what wrong has been made, but I will right it. It's the least I can do…for Fox."
The taps of Krystal's sandals against the marble floor resounded throughout the building. Her mind's eye shut and faded as she gazed upon her surroundings; pillars carried the roof on their backs, long sets of chairs were arranged in rows and an altar stood up front like the helm of a ship. The fox girl's ears fell to the sides of her head, her eyes widened; she felt the same austerity carried in the silent air as the grand temples of her own planet. Its halls were darker, as though a giant shadows has been casted upon the whole building, and the windows of stained glass refracted only bits of sunlight. She gripped at her rune-marked arms, trying to hide them as though they could burn through the sleeves of Fox's shirt, knowing they were still there, even underneath the clothes of the man to whom these people held as their hero. The somber enclosure suddenly put everything into perspective for the oddly colored vixen from a dead world; it reminded her of all the differences she had with the people of the planet she stood on.
"I…I won't be long," she muttered, "I just need a moment to concentrate. I'll be gone before anyone even notices I'm here." Her eyes again wandered in her head, but with a quickened jump from place to place in fear of getting caught. The fox girl made her way to the pews and, confused by the different structure, decided it would be best not to make an attempt to kneel. Down she sat, her muscled bunched together as to take the smallest amount of space possible, eyes and hands clenched tightly. Her ears twittered against a soft, chilling breeze that crawled from behind—she assumed she had accidentally left the door open, but resolved to ignore the minor discomfort. The folds of her eyelids stacked up in increasing layers as she tried to rebuild the shield of focus in her mind. She slowed her breathing so that she might push out all distracting thoughts and noises, but the song of hearts and minds did not resurface.
"Ooh, I can't seem to do it now!" she pouted, "I've done it a dozen times before! I NEED to find him!"
"Anxious as always, I see…" a voice wisped from the crack of the door and popped right next to Krystal on her seat. The beginning foundations of the vixen's mental generator shattered with a gasp, and as her eyes jutted away from their meditative center, they found another vulpine woman in a similar, cerulean shade of fur, but she carried greater age and wisdom in her white face. "Some things never change." She spoke again with a peaceful grin, watching the girl next to her stutter with wide, unbelieving eyes as if she anticipated her reaction.
"Yes, dear, it's me." She said with a light, blissful laugh, "It's been quite some time, if I recall correctly."
"It's been twelve years!" the younger vixen exclaimed, as if insulted by her mentor's calm demeanor. "Y-you're…you're dead! You were in the Salvation with the rest of the council and we…"
"I know, I know, I was there. And I see you and some new friends visited what remained of our ship. Thank you for releasing all of us."
"You…saw? So you really were trapped…"
"Yes, I was against the attempt of escape, but Sappho had convinced the rest of the council, and unbeknownst to us we would face a fate worse than death. But now it is all done, our ordeal now but a short flicker in the endless shadow of time and space."
"I…for what it's worth, Lady Iris…I'm sorry for what has happened. It was foolish of us to try and go against our fate."
The older fox laughed again, hardier than before. "There is no need for formalities any longer, my child. My title is of little significance now. As for the…incidents with our planet, it is all done now, and it cannot be undone. It was out of your control, there is no need for you to feel regret or mourning."
"But…then what of the pact? Won't Corneria…this world, be destroyed as well…because of our actions?" Iris's smile subsided as she looked away from her former pupil, who sensed her change in tone and choked in her trail of thought. "Iris…? Iris, please…what's going to happen?"
"Hmm…my child, you must understand. Being dead, you exist on a plane of existence beyond these mortal limitations. Births, deaths…all things that are brought into the universe will eventually leave as well. I am no longer able to feel the worry and frustration that you do for these things I could never hope to change."
The fox girl began to quiver, words barely able to trickle out from her gaping mouth. "So…so it's TRUE, then? What should we do? What will happen to everyone here?" Iris looked towards the altar in the distance. Krystal leaned against her and swung for her cloak, but her fingers were unable to get a hold of anything. "Iris, please…please help me." Iris remained silent, her focus locked to the center, her eyes drifting away as if seeing beyond this church where she barely maintained a visual form on the pews. The linings of her body eased into dimmer and dimmer shades. As she watched, the girl began to cry. "No, please Iris! Don't leave! I can't do this by myself! Please…please stay, I need you!"
"Krystal!" The older fox commanded with a firm tone, making her former pupil pop in her seat. "That is enough. Do not make such drastic conclusions."
"But…" Krystal still sniffled, "But the pact, and…and…"
"Was made by the living, by those who had no grasp of real wisdom. All it is…is semantics." The young vixen only sniffled again and wipes her eyes with her arm in response, still trembling. Iris looked upon her once more and sighed. "You must forgive me, my child, for I…no longer am limited to what you and the living see…Krystal…do you remember what I told you about kindred spirits?"
"…Y-yes, but I don't see what…"
"Let me finish," she said sternly, "All Cerinians are told that we all have one other person with whom we are destined to share everything with. We were told that…alone we are incomplete, and it is only through the joining of two kindred souls that we can become whole. Now let me ask you…which of these things had more importance to you? Which of these things were you more aware of as you grew up?"
"Well, I…I…the kindred spirits, I suppose, but…"
"And do you know why this was more stressed? Because matters of the soul are much more important than the words of our ancestors. There is nothing we can do about what the Progenitors did. There IS something we can do about our spirit."
"But…but Iris! What good will it do if I were to find my kindred spirit if this world is destroyed?"
"Oh?" The elder vixen made a sharp turn and a smirk. "That implies you know he's on this planet."
Krystal's face lit up with a faint pinkish glow. "I…it's not like that, I only meant…"
"Ah, Krystal…I've almost forgotten how awful you are at keeping secrets. Do you really think you can keep something like that from me? I saw the way this city made you frightful, the way outsiders from here and beyond have hurt you. I have always known. And yet, here you are, showing sympathy for a world you've spent but a few short hours on. You've never stayed on a planet more than a few days."
The young fox made a hard swallow, trying to push down all the blush and chokes, stutters and tears. When the thoughts of the Star Fox team and their kindness entered her mind, a seedling of happiness replanted itself in her mind, combating her despair. "Y-yes…it's true, for the first time, in a very long time, I feel a sense of belonging. I've met people…I've only known them for a short amount of time, but…but that's just it. They were so ready to accept me. One of them even said we could be…like a family…I haven't…I was hardly even part of a family back home, I was just so happy, I just have to do what I can to make this work, I can't just leave now…" Still struggling to fight back trickles of water from reddening and weary eyes, she looked at her old mentor and awaited a response. When none came, the budding happiness for recalling her acceptance was halted. "Is this why you're here? Are you trying to tell me I'm too trusting or…I'm mistaken somehow? …Iris, I don't want to leave this place. Don't you see? I want to stay here, with the team, with…"
"…So…you DO know…"
"I told you, my dear, I can see all of these things…Once I was released from the ship, it was all very clear to me…Krystal, I have another question for you. Did you wonder why Fox was able to use your staff so well?"
"N…no…" she answered with trembling breath.
"That older man, the hare…he told you about a family that may have mixed Cornerian and Cerinian blood. You told time him some Cerinians are born with the gift."
"…So…Fox has powers like me?"
"Not quite. His blood is a bit too diluted to become a telepath, but the ability to grasp the strength and spiritual power of the original Cerinians is within him. He has…a spark, you might say, a spark that will not go out…a spark that will carry the light and goodness of this world."
Krystal was still in her place on the pew, her shaking had stopped, her breathing had slowed. As though a giant wave had come over her, her displays of sadness and frustration, the flushed cheeks and trembling words, had all washed away.
"And do you remember…" said Iris as she stood up walked in the aisle, inching to the altar, her silhouette thinning in the golden light. "The Krazoa Spirit test? You both proved yourself to be pure of heart…My dear, you really must learn to be more aware of such obvious signs. These things do not foretell the end of a world, they mark a new beginning."
Krystal followed her old mentor slowly, but stopped when the ends of her cloak had faded away. She uncurled her arm and reached for her, but the strands of her long hair escaped the grasp of her fingertips. "So…so the pact is…?"
"It has long been undone. There are people in this world with Cerinian blood flowing inside them, and now you flow through the blood of a Cornerian as well. As long as you all keep living, the pact will be of no effect."
"Lady Iris…will I ever see you again?"
Iris turned her head and gave her pupil one last, blithe smile. "On a day very far from now. Until then, live your new life."
The elder vixen turned away, and her figure melted to translucent dust and scattered throughout the rays of refracted light. A tingling sense of warmth came billowing throughout those bits of light, erasing the cold grip of loneliness the vixen had when she entered. Her heart uplifted, swelling in her chest, the blood flowing through her like a circulating embrace, and her eyes wide and glazed with hope, she burst out the twin doors and rushed through the city.
By this time, however, on the other side of the massive metropolis, Fox had already returned to the docks with Falco. Riddled with fear and guilt, as the priestess Sappho had infected him, the vulpine wandered about, until Falco caught up with him, just feet away from the church. The avian yelled and cursed at him with such ferocity, the apathetic Fox was blindsided by the noise and rendered helpless. His energy and sense of purpose was restored only upon his return, when Peppy and Slippy told him about Krystal's departure.
"Damn!" Fox cussed under his breath, shaking his fists as he stormed through the crowded streets, ignoring the praise of any resident that recognized his heroic figure. "Why did Krystal just leave like that!?"
"Hey! She went to look for YOU, genius!" snarled Falco as he followed him with as much boiling energy.
"Well, why didn't you guys stop her?"
"Fox, we told you, I really did try," moaned Peppy as he trotted behind, "but she bolted…and I couldn't…keep up…ugh…"
"Maybe…if you…didn't just leave…without telling us…hoo boy…" bellowed Slippy in a weary tone, trailing even further behind than the middle-aged hare.
"I didn't think she was awake yet!" Fox barked back at them, stopping in his tracks. His three teammates stared at him with furrowed and uneasy brows. At the sight of their frustration, he let out a sigh. "Look, I…I'm sorry, guys, I'm just…well, you guys know about that whole…Corneria and Cerinia being conjoint? I was just thinking about why they got separated in the first place. And Krystal…well, she's been moving about all her life…I thought I was being selfish, insisting she stay and everything. Maybe…she doesn't want to be with me at all."
"Ugh, gag me," blurted the falcon, "If she wanted to leave, she would've done it when you had that fight."
"That's enough, Falco," said Peppy, "Listen, Fox, I know you must have your reasons…I don't know what happened on that strange ship. We all…seemed to have experienced it in a different way…"
"Seriously," added Falco.
"Tell me about it…" chimed in Slippy.
"But…the important thing is we got through it together, and that includes Krystal. You should've heard her, you know…she was very worried about you."
"Yes, and she ran off when I told her about the possibility that some Cornerians have Cerinian blood in them."
"I…I had no idea…is that really true?"
"Very possible, I would say. But the point is she wants to be one of us…and I think you should let her. You were so sure before, I don't see what could change that."
"Look, Fox," Falco began again in his usual boisterous tone, his chest held high, "I don't know what happened to you, exactly, but when I was in that funky ship, I…saw some weird things, and as it turned out…a lot of it was just a hoax. You shouldn't let some weird haunted ship sway you."
"Yeah, Fox!" cheered the toad, "We believe in you. Shouldn't you believe in yourself?"
"…Thanks, you guys," the vulpine said calmly, his stance firm, "I needed that. I guess I just…thought maybe I'd lose her, and couldn't take it."
"Well, then, let's go retrieve our new member!" proclaimed the hare.
The four of them walked and walked, narrowly avoiding any unwanted attention with silence and steadiness. The teammates soon became aware of Fox's shoulders falling back and tail sagging as more time went on, as more unfamiliar, cloudy faces swished by them. His bright green eyes bounced from every corner, every building, every sign that glowed brighter in befalling evening sky. As darkness crept from the hills on the other side of the city that overlooked the vista of buildings and ocean lining, curdling breaths blasted out from the cracks of Fox's pointed teeth.
"Where could she have possibly gone!?" Slippy cried, "Oh, I hope she's not hurt…or worse!"
"Don't worry so much, Slip," said Peppy, forcing down the amphibian's growing panic with his own calm tone, "I'm sure Krystal can take care of herself…she's been doing this half her life, after all."
"She's fine," asserted Fox as his ears twitched. He instinctively turned his head to the hills and began jogging away from the streets and crowds. "She close…I just know it."
"Hey, what do you think you're doing!?" blurted Falco, "This is no time for a hike!"
"We've searched all of Corneria City…I think she must've left to seek refuge from all the confusion."
"And how would you know something like THAT?"
"What kind of crap…"
"Falco!" snapped the hare, "Fox hasn't steered us wrong before."
As the team ascended, howling winds surged through the rocks and weeds that covered the pointed hills. Falco, Peppy and Slippy pushed themselves upward to the extent their bodies would allow, but helplessly watched as Fox bolted ahead without so much as a fatigued exhale or a drop of sweat.
"Krystal!" he shouted as he made the transition of running to climbing, throwing any rocks not firmly implanted in the sliding wall out of his path. His cries echoed into the oncoming night. "Krystal! Are you there!?"
"Fox…?" a soft voice crept from over the very last cliff. As Fox threw himself over the edge of dried grass and gritty dirt, he found a blue vixen, sitting with her hands on bent knees, her short hair floating against the chilled gusts, and her teal eyes gleaming brighter than the millions of tiny specks of neon light below. "Fox!" she cried, launching herself towards him.
"Krystal! I was so worried!" the fox exclaimed as wrapped her with his arms upon the impact.
"I was worried about YOU! I got lost, but…I knew you'd find me here."
"It's okay, Krystal," Fox said, his voice smoothed out as he brushed his fingers against her white face. "I'm sorry for what I've done. I didn't mean to upset you…but I won't leave you alone anymore."
The vixen looked up at him, her eyelids lowered as to deter the flow of tears and to focus on the warming sensation of his touch. "…I'd like that," she said in a whisper. As the other three caught up and saw the two foxes in their embrace, they united as a single group, a team, as the stars revealed themselves from the blanket of darkness.