Author's Notes (Goldberry): Oooo, a co-authored fic! Aren't you all just brimming with excitement? I must say, I have major respect for my writing partner, Jonathan-sama, who managed to take my garbled writing and make something beautiful out of it. I may claim the title but the final product is definitely his. This one is for all of you who have been waiting for a nice, romantic vignette between Kite and BlackRose. Did I mention there's a Grunty?
Author's Notes (Jonathan Priest): Well, this is the first co-write done by the magnificently talented Goldberry and myself. A nice bit of fluff is always a good thing and I hope this is a good solid dose for you wonderful readers out there. Thanks for reading.
Every Road Leads to You
The cultural city Carmina Gadelica was a living, breathing sea of tightly pressed bodies, as every player occupying their own personal space within the digital kingdom acted as a conduit for the overtly contagious energy resounding from the excited clamoring of the assembled crowd. The activity and crowd were nothing new to Lambda Server. As the most popular server town, excited players and adventures would often gather to appraise and boast to one another of their latest conquest.
That was perhaps why the lone Wavemaster had thought to come to the cultural city, yet his posture and demeanor were grossly out of place within the lively port. Small, uncertain steps carried him throughout the vast labyrinth of bodies while his head swayed uneasily in various directions as he scanned the crowded streets in a near appearance of schizophrenic uncertainty, as if the young man were afraid of both what he would find and lose upon whatever desperate discovery drove him forward.
And though he knew where the Chaos Gate resided within the town, he was lost among the figures that pressed against him, passing only a small number of faces he recognized from a few minutes prior, or even an hour ago. He wasn't sure how long he had searched this town, though the time itself scarcely mattered. He had fallen into the habit that every six or seventh person he'd pass, he'd intrude upon their conversation regardless of the content and beg if they had seen a purple cat-like Blade Master. Many expressed looks of bewilderment or confusion, others mocked him with the irrefutable declaration that cat edited characters were not part of the system parameters and did not exist. Regardless of the answer received, he was rewarded with the same result, fear and loss.
He could almost feel the tears burn the corners of his eyes, his vision becoming cloudy from the unshed grief of uncertainty, but it didn't matter. Mia was his friend…his only friend, and though she was distant, even with him, he had no doubt she'd tear the servers apart to find him should he ever go missing. Of course, that was the problem that presented itself now. He had traveled to every field he and Mia had frequented, searched every inch with no more knowledge of her whereabouts than when he had started.
That was why he needed Mia, she was the leader, she was decisive one, he merely followed her directions. Now, without her, he drifted aimlessly, resorting to asking the random passerby of any news. He hadn't realized the weight of his own anxiety had crushed him beneath his depression, nor did he register the strength leaving his legs as he collapsed to the cobblestone street, the kind strangers and fellow players altering their course to move around him. He found himself clutching numbly at the staff in his hand as he knelt against the digital road of Carmina Gadelica; his broken and shattered hope blowing about him as easily as the virtual dust particles that danced through the artificial world.
Two pairs of legs had stopped within his line of vision, yet it was only when the gentle voice belonging to the owner of the red and yellow leggings spoke to him that he acknowledged their presence.
"Elk, are you okay?" Kite asked cautiously, his face lined with concern on behalf of the suffering Wavemaster as he stole a sideways glance at his partner.
It was then that the tear-streaked face of the sobbing young man turned his eyes toward his sometimes companions, desperate comprehension gliding across his features. With reactions and speed that surprised the two warriors, Elk lunged at Kite, his fingers clutching frantic handfuls of material of the Twin Blade's red vest.
"H…have you seen her? Please, tell me you've seen her. I have to know…where she is? Tell me please, where is she?"
Kite jumped involuntarily and would have stumbled against the sudden weight thrown at him had it not been for BlackRose's quick and thoughtful intervention. The words working their way from Elk's mouth had come in a frantic rush, as the Wavemaster appeared to be near hyperventilation over his undeniable distress.
"Mia," the terrified young man finished, as if Kite had certainly overlooked the obvious. "Have you seen Mia? I can't find her anywhere. You have to tell me where she is."
Kite looked at BlackRose, uncertain if his own expression were a cry for help or failed understanding at the desperate situation that had pulled him unwillingly into the depths of Elk's depression. Fortunately, BlackRose took the cue to mean the former as she moved to gently guide their shaking companion from her overwhelmed partner.
"Elk, I'm sorry, but we haven't seen Mia. We've just logged in," the Heavy Blade swordswoman said, diverting all of her sisterly experience into the strong yet caring gaze she offered to the teen.
"No, I have to find her," his words came out as little more than a whisper as he made to return to his position on the cobblestone lane had it not been for the strength of BlackRose's character. "I…I can't lose her. Don't you see that? Don't you understand? I have to find her."
The line of her mouth shifting from reserved concern to unspoken contemplation, BlackRose shook her head slightly as she addressed her friend. "Losing your head over the situation won't help Elk. You have to think rationally. Where was the last place you saw Mia?"
But Kite's words broke any hyperactive tangent preparing to work its way out of the Wavemaster. "We'll help you look for her Elk." Turning an amused smile toward his partner at the questioning debate she would obviously voice later, Kite continued. "It won't do you any good searching for her when you're like this. Let us handle it for a while. We'll look for her. You can log off and get some sleep or just gather your thoughts. Let us help."
"No buts," BlackRose said, catching Kite's underlining purpose for the Wavemaster to take a breather as she interrupted his prepared protest. "Kite's right. Let us handle it, you get some rest."
A shudder of uncertainty crossed over his features, but shifting his eyes from the concerned expression of Kite to the stubborn look BlackRose gave him, Elk finally relented his arguments and resigned himself to rest. As he turned from the pair, his shoulders slumped in silent defeat; the alternating cycle of golden rings indicated him logging out.
As the pair watched in silence at the disappearance of their friend, BlackRose stole a sideways glance at her partner. Knowing him well enough to know what he was thinking was often a curse, and BlackRose chastised herself for being so intuitive.
"So, where do start looking?"
A simple shrug from the Twin Blade was her only response.
"Remind me again, where are we?" BlackRose asked, eyeing the wintry landscape blearily. They were in a field so bright with snow that the sky was almost a rosy pink, every turn of her head sending aching arcs of light into her optics, aggravating the already pounding headache that forced her to rub her temples every few minutes. She was sure it must have been the hundredth field they had searched in what was shortly becoming a vain quest for the missing Mia. With nothing to go on, they had adopted a somewhat hit-and-miss method, sometimes picking random fields rumored to have Aromatic Grass, other times checking fields they were sure Mia visited often.
They had found nothing.
"Bright Treasured Melody," Kite replied dutifully, rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes. He looked a bit worse for wear as well, a shadow of tiredness in the lines of his face. Still, he seemed somehow determined to find something, anything that they might be able to give to Elk to restore his hope. She supposed it wasn't surprising. Kite could be quite stubborn when he wanted to be.
So could she, of course, which was why she nodded vaguely in her partner's direction and continued on, shielding her eyes against the glare with a hand and squinting into the distance without the slightest suspect that she might actually see anything.
BlackRose also knew a lost cause when she stepped into one.
"Oh, this is ridiculous!" she said suddenly, throwing up her hands. "We could search every field on this server and never find anything! For all we know, we might have just missed her!" She shook her head, angry with herself and the situation. "It's pointless."
Kite sighed. "I know."
BlackRose, having already opened her mouth in her presumed self-defense found herself suddenly at a loss over her partner's quick agreement. "I... What?"
Blue eyes found garnet in an almost silent plea of understanding. "You're right. It's pointless. The World is too big for us to make much of a difference."
"Since when has that stopped us?" she replied automatically, eyes narrowing as Kite smiled, bemused. She nudged him with an elbow. "Alright, Mr. Reverse Psychology, lead on. I'm still following you."'
Instead of heading out, Kite dropped smoothly to the ground, sitting back on his heels, elbows resting on his knees. He offered her a wane smile. Her eyebrows twitched in response.
"Well, it is pointless," he said, somewhat sheepishly.
BlackRose was quite proud of herself when managed not to smack him. "We could use a Grunty," she offered, making a face that existed somewhere between distaste and defeat. "At least then we could cover more ground."
With no objections, the Twin Blade nodded, pulling the Grunty Flute from his inventory and playing a short, melodic tune. In no time, a Noble Grunty appeared running from the distant horizon, bowing a short, stocky leg to them as it approached. Kite ignored the narcissistic greeting the oddly shaped creature offered before hopping on its ample back and leaning down absently to pull BlackRose up behind him. As she settled in, she curled her fingers into her partner's shirt for balance as the Grunty sped off, guided by Kite's random directions.
The two searched for nearly ten minutes, the weight of hopelessness beginning to settle once again over them. As she knew they would, they found nothing, not even signs of another party they could have at least questioned.
"She's not here," BlackRose murmured as Kite let the Grunty amble in no particular direction, his shoulders hunched slightly in defeat.
"It's almost like she's not anywhere," the red garbed Twin Blade replied, his words heavy as if fighting the foreboding sense of failure.
The Heavy Blade pinched the bridge of her nose in aggravation. "Should we stop? It's been two hours..." She felt his refusal before he even answered.
"I want to help Elk," he said with surprising conviction. "I... I don't want to have to tell him we can't find her."
"Well maybe we should just stop for tonight," BlackRose replied, her words muffled by the wind billowing from the fast moving Grunty. "I mean, what more can we do? We're only getting frustrated at this rate."
"We can at least do a little more tonight," her partner responded, yet his words echoed the same sense of uselessness she herself felt.
"You can't fix everything Kite," she told him softly. His expression fell as he turned to look at her, but she knew he understood.
"I don't want to give up on her." He turned slightly, one blue eye regarding her solemnly. "I wouldn't give up on you."
She blinked; startled by the serious and almost lost look he gave her, even though her mind had moved her along the same path. If it had been him, if it had been Kite... Still, it wasn't Kite, it was Mia, and she wasn't Elk.
"I would never disappear on you," she told him, pretending to be affronted by the thought. "You wouldn't last a day by yourself." He smiled and she mentally patted herself on the back. She always knew how to make him smile. "But," she continued, a bit more seriously, "If you disappeared...." She trailed off, her voice quieting. "I would search for you."
He nodded his head slightly, a brief reaction of understanding yet kept his eyes focused on the path before them. After several more moments of silence, Kite turned his head slightly to again address his partner. "That's why it's important for us to look for Mia, because we can…well, we can relate to what he's going through," another moment passed before Kite continued, trying to find either the words or the courage to express himself properly. He settled for the affirmation. "You're right though BlackRose, I wouldn't last a day without you."
On impulse, she hugged him, wrapping her arms around him from behind, her head moving forward to lie against his shoulder. "Neither would I," she said, her words coming out as little more than a bare whisper. The thought of such a contingency was beyond contemplation. She sniffed. "But I'm not going anywhere, and neither are you."
A gloved hand settled over the one she had around his waist. "I know," he replied quietly and she fell silent, struck suddenly by how well he knew her. It was unsettling as well as pleasant. When had they become like this? So dependant on the other? It was...
And it made her feel all the more sorry for Elk. She knew now, if it had been Kite, she would have searched every road, every field, done or said anything that might bring him back to her.
She smiled slightly to herself.
They had roads to travel. They had fields to explore. And they would search them, together.