The next day everybody hopped off the Landale and transferred themselves back to the ice digger, ready for the trip back into Dezoris' heartland. It was a lazy morning, indicative of a lazy, boring day, something that almost everybody needed after the night earlier with Lassic. Once they were in the ice digger and well on their way to Zosa, the first landmark of their journey, Chaz was in a corner somewhere and deep down in sleepy land, Rika was reading a book Rune had leant her, Rune was mediating in his hammock, light snores possibly giving his concentration away, and Kyra was restless and wandering.

There was going to be no fighting today. All they were going to do was recuperate. Wren left everybody in peace while he drove the ice digger for them, but he did notice Kyra's strange behaviour about the vehicle. The young esper looked like she was troubled by something, but the android did not pry. Eventually she left the bridge and went away, so Wren did not concern himself with it any longer.

When Kyra had woken up early this morning the first thing on her mind was what she had seen the night before. There was no way she was going to let her mind forget it or dismiss it as a dream, so she held onto that memory with an iron, vice-like grip. It was a secret too fantastical, too juicy to lose. Kyra could hardly believe Chaz had the confidence to have a relationship with anyone, but she guessed that libido and confidence were both separate things.

It was strange, though. Kyra could have sworn that Chaz had been developing deep feelings for Rika. It seemed as soon as those feelings were very slowly mirrored by Rika, however, Chaz's attention immediately went elsewhere. It went to somebody else, somebody that made absolutely no sense. Was Chaz afraid of seeing reciprocal feelings in the eyes of the woman he loved, or was he so caught up in his own problems and wants that he hadn't even noticed Rika's feelings for him? It was a tangled, confused web indeed.

Kyra felt like an audience watching a drama play; the only one putting the pieces together now and figuring out the story. The only real troubling question on her mind was whether to interfere. She knew that she wanted to, desperately, but what kind of results would that create? The esper girl had wandered into the bridge and watched Wren for awhile, leaning against the entranceway of the room. Wren was the one turning this star-crossed love story into a classic love triangle. He was the one tangling this web into confusion.

And now that she thought about it Kyra realised that she should have known about this much sooner. Chaz and Wren had been spending quite a bit of time together and their friendship had grown markedly too. It had only been the tip of the iceberg. She'd barely even noticed because Chaz's old roommate had been switched out and passed on to her. Rune had been keeping her rather occupied. Kyra smirked a bit at that.

So, in the end it was all very simple. Kyra needed to tell somebody. It felt like she would explode if she didn't. If Chaz and Wren were going to continue this thing behind Rika's back Kyra didn't think she could keep silent even if she wanted to. It was best that the numan girl find out now instead of later and save herself some heartache. As her friend Kyra could at least give her that.

Satisfied with her inner dialogue and happy that she had been able to turn the little devil on her shoulder into an angel, Kyra straightened herself up off the wall and left the bridge, making her way to Rika's bunker. It was her own bunker as well, more like a girl's quarters, but once she got there and stood outside the door she knocked anyway. Three short, sharp raps contrasted against the sound of Rune and Chaz sleeping in the next bunker over. Heh, lazy boys, but because of Lassic they had been worked to the bone. They deserved some peace.

From the other side of the door Rika heard the knocks. "Come in." She chimed, putting her book down.

Kyra came in. The pink-haired numan was still in her pyjamas for lack of anything else to wear, not until she had the freedom to buy a sewing kit from one of the towns and repair her outfit manually. For now her pyjamas were fine. The light blue book sitting in her lap had the title 'Ornithology of Native Dezorian Species' printed upon it in gold lead, and below that the very same title was reproduced there in esperine. It was one of Rune's books, most likely. "Hey Rika," Kyra greeted her, "what's with the heavy reading?"

"Oh, you know. After that bungle with the snow owl nest and how much trouble it caused I thought I'd learn some things about the birds around here, just so I'd never do it again. It's very interesting, but half of this book isn't in English. I feel like I'm missing out on something important." She laughed.

You have no idea how right you are…Kyra thought to herself automatically. She moved over to the rolled-out foam mattress on the floor and sat down beside her. Hoo boy, where to begin? It wasn't really the kind of topic you could just dive into. "I really need to talk to you about something important. It's something you need to hear." She couldn't help but smile a little, even if it was just a quirk of the lip. "About Chaz."

Rika focussed on her when she mentioned Rika's name. A bit of her smile faded away. "You know you can tell me anything, Kyra. What is it?" She asked.

"I saw something weird last night. I thought it might have been a dream but I pinched myself and I didn't wake up. It was after everybody had gone to sleep, but I have to tell somebody now so it won't just be me suspecting odd things on my own." Kyra explained, reviewing what she had just said. She shook her head at the nonsensical nature of it all. "Do you get what I mean?"

She was honest with this. "Not at all. Why don't you just tell me and try to explain it afterwards instead of the other way around? I might be able to understand you then."

"Well, what's your opinion of Chaz and Wren's friendship right now? What do you think of it?" Instead of blabbing it out like she wanted to Kyra took a more roundabout approach. She wasn't going to drop a bombshell until Rika's defences were sufficiently raised. Rika was still her friend. She wasn't going to hurt her if she could avoid it.

"In the beginning I'd say it was rather normal, but in the past week or so anybody can see they've become significantly closer. It must have been when they were trapped in the glacier together; it gave them a chance to become better friends without any of us around to interfere. I'm glad for it, really. Wren's personality seems to be growing and Chaz is much happier now." Rika informed her. She left out part of the truth as she knew it, the part about the mysterious other woman who was the real key to Chaz's happiness.

"You don't find it… suspicious?" Kyra pressed gently, slightly leaning towards her friend.

"No, why? Should I be?" Not really, because Wren had promised never to tell Chaz of her feelings for him, and Rika trusted Wren. She had known him way too long to distrust her mentor.

It was time to tell the truth. Her truth, as she knew it. "Rika… last night as I was going from the infirmary to the lounge in the Landale I saw Wren and Chaz out there in the corridor. They were kissing. Like, really kissing. Steamy naughty daydream kissing. I really saw it, it's true."

Rika did something that Kyra didn't quite expect. She thought about this for a bit, possibly trying to visualise the scenario, then immediately burst out into genuine laughter. She was actually laughing! "Kyra! You- you can't be serious! That's just too funny!" She giggled, squeezing Kyra's shoulder in affection and also to prevent herself from falling over. The little blue book tumbled from her lap onto the floor, forgotten.

Kyra was surprised. She didn't believe her. "I am being serious! I really saw it! Doesn't it all make sense now? The recent friendship? They were kissing! I saw it!"

"Are you sure it wasn't just a weird dream?" Rika asked her, calming down a bit now. She was still trembling just a little from the giggles threatening to break free again. What Kyra was telling her made no sense. There was no way they could be more incompatible to one another. They were both polar opposites, the only aspect they shared being their gender. That only made it even more humorous.

"It was freezing in the infirmary. I was wide awake. Look, I swear that what I saw was true. I wouldn't lie to you, Rika. Maybe there's an explanation I don't know about right now, but I'm just telling you what I think was the truth. Chaz was kissing Wren. Pretty heatedly, too."

The esper girl looked absolutely serious. It was the look on her face that caused Rika to pause and consider, properly this time. They had been spending a lot of time together and Chaz's mystery girlfriend had only popped up a few days ago, ever since the business with the Air Castle began. Speaking of that, Rika suddenly recalled the accusations of the fake Kyra made the night before. If you want to know the truth, look at Wren.

Chaz is a deviant. He swings his sword with both hands, if you know what I mean…

Little fragments of doubt began to worm their way out of the woodwork. They weren't connected, but they were still there. "Maybe you misunderstood what you were seeing?" Rika mused, biting gently at a nail. "Maybe it was-"

"Maybe they were rehearsing a play, or maybe Wren was giving Chaz CPR?" Kyra offered, a touch sarcastically. She smirked. "Maybe Wren just lost something of his in Chaz's pants and he had his hand down there looking for it? C'mon Rika, you're smart. You know that adding two and two together makes four. I knew you might not have wanted to hear this, but I had to tell you anyway."

"But they're both male!"

"It's not so uncommon in the worlds, actually. You'll come to realise it more once you continue to spend time in the outside world. Homosexuality isn't really accepted, but it's not taboo either." Kyra shrugged. Personally she had nothing against it; sometimes she even thought it was cute. Espers were pretty open to strange things, she guessed.

Biologically it didn't make sense, and Rika was the very nature of biology. This had gone way past being humorous, Kyra's dogged determination had seen to that. "But Wren's an android and Chaz is a palman! The age difference is... well, it's huge!" She exclaimed, and then winced. She hadn't been able to catch her hypocrisy in time. Now she regretted it.

That little slip hadn't gone unnoticed either. "I'd say the age gap between you and Chaz is pretty big too, and you're a numan and he's a palman. 'Course, I'd still say you're the natural choice, but I can't tell you what he and Wren are thinking. Not in-depth, anyhow. I'm the last person who'd know what makes an android's mind tick. Something could be there after all."

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that; my mind just sort of blurted it out." Rika apologised. Now that she thought about it, maybe she had more in common with Wren than she'd originally thought.

However, one thing was for sure. She did not believe in Kyra's wild story; her wacky dream. It couldn't be true, even if all the pieces could fit together snugly into a picture. Rika didn't have the heart or courage to reconstruct them completely.

Kyra felt so much better after getting that huge story off her chest, but at the same time she felt incredibly guilty. The look of wavering doubt on the other girl's face was terrible. The esper stood. "W-Well, that's all I wanted to tell you. I hope I've done the right thing."

"I think you have. Better to know than not know and wander about in ignorance." Rika's smile had become wan. "Um… thanks for telling me about your dream."

She hesitated, then Kyra almost wilted. The only way Rika could accept it was as her crazy dream. That was better than nothing, she guessed. "Any time. You're my friend, you know. I'd tell you anything."

The fake Kyra had planted the seed of doubt, and the real Kyra had watered it liberally. All that was left was to wait, and to reap what was sown.

When Kyra left Rika didn't pick up her book again. She just thought about things for a very long time.

xxx

Later, once the ice digger was barely half an hour away from the town of Reshel; a town corrupted and destroyed by the might of the black energy wave, Wren noticed something unusual in the snow. As a result he slowed the vehicle down to a stop and stared into the blinding white, trying to identify the two dark blobs waving in and out of the blizzard. Rune was hanging around the bridge at that time, when he felt the vehicle slow down he placed the sock he was darning to the side.

"Eh? What is it?" The esper asked as he looked over to Wren and then the near-opaque windscreen. They were still about two hours to Meese and if they wound up in that glacier all over again anybody who fell in would just have to save themselves. There was no way he was going to catch cold for the second time in a week. He was still trying to stomp out the lingering symptoms of that last one.

Wren turned in his seat a bit to look at Rune over in the corner, the magician sitting there with a pile of loose wool in his lap. Rune had been asleep until about forty five minutes ago, and for somebody who had been sucked into another dimension the night before he looked pretty okay. Wren considered the best course of action based upon what he was seeing on the screen. "I detect two obstacles in the snow. They appear too small to be biomonsters." He realised what Rune was probably thinking. "And no, it does not seem to be another snow owl nest."

Rune thought for a few seconds and then he got up from where he was sitting. He winced and rubbed his right shoulder where he experienced a small ache. "Alright, I'll go get everybody and bring 'em up here. Let's see what the others say, though I personally think you should just run those specks over." He said, laughing softly as he left the bridge to shake everybody out of their bunkers.

Five minutes later the three missing members of their team were standing around in the centre of the room. Rika and Kyra were wide awake and interested, while Chaz was still half asleep and actually still had his blanket with him gathered under one arm. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly while everybody else inspected the screen. They weren't just blobs out there; if one squinted they kinda sorta looked a lot like people…

The Lutz had his own suspicions and Kyra held serious doubts too. If they were getting too close to infected Reshel it was entirely possible a few of the animated rotting bodies had lurched away from the town and out into the storm. After dealing with Lassic both espers felt like they had had enough of the living dead to last a whole lifetime. If they did turn out to be zombies, well, the drills and the ice digger treads would make short work of that.

Kyra leaned against the driver's chair and looked at the elaborate sweep of buttons all over the control panel. She couldn't make head nor tail of it at all. Also, it felt very awkward to stand next to somebody who had been doing dirty things to her other friend and she still had to act like she didn't know. Yeah, it felt awkward, but at the same time it felt empowering. It was like; 'you think you have a secret but you don't know I know it, but I do. I know everything…'

What she said did not betray her thoughts on the inside. She pointed to the control panel as she spoke. "Hey Wren, put the high-beam lights on them and maybe we'll see what those things really are."

Wren reacted as if he had been anticipating the command. "Yes, very well." He agreed and then flipped two small switches on the panel, usually reserved for night driving. Two bright beams of light penetrated into the snowstorm, turning the two little specks into two silhouettes. One was significantly taller than the other and the shorter silhouette was frantically waving a coat at them. It was either a cry for help or a plea not to be run over and smooshed by the heavy treads.

Upon seeing those people down there Rika finally broke her silence and spoke. It was hard to stand in a room with both Wren and Chaz there at the same time and not think about how ridiculous it was, and how it made her wonder. There was nothing here to suggest some sort of connection at all. "Those poor people! They must be freezing!" She exclaimed.

"Let's just drive around them." Rune suggested as he rubbed his chin gently. Once they got back to a town he really needed the time to have a shave.

Rika turned to Rune. "We can't do that! What if they freeze to death?"

"That's not our problem." The Lutz replied callously.

Kyra poked Chaz in the side. "What do you think, sleepyhead?"

Chaz flinched and looked around like he wasn't sure what was going on. Rune had only just walked into their bunker and dragged him out of his corner by an arm, offering little to no explanation on the reason why. All he knew was that they had been stopped by something. Chaz blinked. "Huh? I don't know. What's the problem?" He asked.

Before anybody could sigh and explain it to him for a second time Wren leaned forward in his chair, analysing the silhouettes more closely and coming to an unexpected conclusion. "Oh!" He exclaimed in mild surprise. "I know them."

Four different variations of 'wha?' were heard within the ice digger. Wren had been on Zelan for the past thousand years, how could he possibly know anybody down there on Dezoris, let alone people nobody else knew about? The android was the least likely person to have friends; however Wren seemed rather sure of himself. He never would have said anything at all if he wasn't. Everybody clustered around the windscreen and control panel a little closer.

"How can you tell you know these people just from a small glimpse in the light?" Rune wondered out loud, squinting at the blizzard. He noticed something and narrowed his eyes. "… I think the short one's making hand gestures at us. Huh, I recognise that one…" He grumped.

Without asking Rika went to the side door of the ice digger and opened it up wide. A sharp blast of cold air assaulted the room. Flakes blew inside. Rika curled her hand around the first button over her pyjama top to protect her neck from the cold and leaned outside of the exit door. It felt like she was sticking her head into a cold blender full of powdered glass. "Hello!" She cried out, her voice mostly erased by the howl of the storm. "Over heeeere! Up the steps! Come inside!" As she called this she kicked out the extendable steps leading inside the ice digger.

Rune pulled a sour face. "We're cramped in here enough as it is! Hasn't anybody ever told her never to pick up hitchhikers?"

"It might be interesting." Chaz volunteered innocently, yawning.

"Yeah, well, I'm not sharing my bunker with any more people. I have it just the way I like it. You take up too much space as it is." Rune protested, folding his arms. He looked over to the windscreen again and sighed. "Oh, great. They're actually coming in."

"How'd you know those people, Wren?" Chaz asked, curious. There was probably a lot about the android he didn't know, but it was interesting to find out. The cold wind from outside of the ice digger was waking him up anyway.

Wren smiled at Chaz, Rune and Kyra. It was one of those full, innocently sincere smiles. "It was at the bar in Ryuon. I met them there." He said.

Extending a hand Rika helped the two travellers climb on into the ice digger. They looked like a pair of snowmen, stiff with frost and leather and cold. They wound up tracking more snow into the digger but as soon as they were inside Rika immediately slammed the door shut. It began to feel a little warmer in there already. "Brrr!" She shivered, wrapping her arms about herself tightly. "That's c-c-cold out there!"

"Here, lemme help you." Chaz offered and kindly wrapped his warm blanket around Rika's shoulders, folding it about her body carefully. He and Rune had already been sick; he didn't want Rika to end up joining them. The girl accepted the blanket gratefully and then hugged him, trying to leech off his ample body heat.

The shorter hitchhiker removed his hat. Beneath it laid a bit more snow and a mop of dirty blond hair. He was a palman and sort of looked like how a person would look if Chaz and Hahn managed to have a love-child together. Somehow. Anyway, the visage was vaguely familiar to a few people in the room. "Phew! I thought we were going to die in that storm! You guys are our saviours, though I thought you were going to flatten us like a horned devil with wheelie treads, ha ha!"

"You gotta have a little more faith, Roland. There's always a tiny angel watching over you as long as you believe she's there. The very minute you doubt – poof! She's gone." Mumbled the other hitchhiker, removing his hood and coat and revealing himself to be a freakishly tall, olive-skinned dezorian. He had a pleased grin on his face, focussing on Rune who he assumed to be the leader. "Thanks for picking us up, I think you just saved us from our own foolish folly."

"Who the hell are you people?" Rune demanded suspiciously. He could sense bums on sight, and these two snowmen were certainly posteriors of the glutious maximus variety.

"Roland. I'm Roland," the palman said as he shook ice crystals out of his hair and then pointed at the dezorian beside him with a thumb, "and this great beanstalk here is Valos. We thought we could walk from Ryuon to Meese and damn the walls of ice, but it was starting to beat us down. We cleared at least one wall of ice on foot. That's our triumph." He laughed.

"We really need to stop following through on our dumb ideas when we're drunk. I know it's just best to go with the flow, but not when sub zero temperatures are involved." Valos stuck out his hand in greeting and gratitude. Rune reluctantly took it and shook. It was like shaking hands with an icicle. He was half afraid they were going to end up stuck together, like a tongue to an iron pole.

"It is not safe to travel unprotected in this storm. Travellers should remain in safe colonies until the weather lifts." Wren advised as he stood from the driver's seat and left the ice digger idling. Until he could manually alter Dezoris' climate he did not want anybody to perish on account of the storm.

Upon hearing his voice Roland noticed their driver at last. He grinned. "Well, look at that! It's that guy from the bar! Hello Wren, didn't expect to see you here in the middle of nowhere. Out on business or something?" He had never expected to see that android again. It was like one of those 'once in a lifetime' things that you tell to your grandkids someday, or a bunch of other guys in a different bar. Either one was okay.

From over the top of Rika's head Chaz almost recognised the other palman. Wasn't he that guy from Ryuon the night after they had killed Lassic's three servants? The one he had been slightly jealous of, as silly as that sounded right now. He had no idea who the dezorian was, but then again besides Raja all dezorians looked the same to him anyway. Chaz broke the hug with Rika now that the girl seemed significantly warmed up. "So, um, where are you headed?" He asked.

"Didn't they just tell us that, Chaz you dummy?" Kyra replied before anybody else could, cheekily. She liked the idea of having new people around, apart from Rune everybody else on the digger was a little too awkward to talk to right now. She'd welcome anybody who could help change the subject or distract herself from the guilt of telling Rika the truth.

"Hey, does that mean you're going to give us a lift?" Roland asked hopefully, looking imploringly at Rune and then Wren.

"No." Said Rune.

"Yes." Said Rika.

But Wren was the driver and technically the ice digger belonged to him. He would be obliged to offer these two travellers a ride to safety were the decision solely up to him, but he was not the leader of this entourage. He looked to Chaz obediently for a decision or for advice.

Chaz had a rather pure, if simple view of things. If he were about to freeze in a blizzard and then find himself saved the next moment he'd beg and plead to stay saved and safe. These two travellers seemed like good people, if a little eccentric. There was no harm in letting them tag along until they reached their next destination. Rune would have to just put up with it. Chaz didn't mind that. "Aw, the more the merrier. You can ride with us to Meese, just don't be too much of a nuisance, okay?"

As Rune scowled Rika and Kyra appeared pleased, but that didn't match how relieved Roland and Valos seemed to be. It looked like somebody had just shot the hangman's rope in two as they stood on the gallows, waiting. Valos pumped Rune's hand up and down like a piston. "Much obliged! Much obliged! We will pay you all back someday! Say, do you have something nice and warm to drink?"

"Even hot tap water would do at this point…" The dark-blond palman mumbled tiredly.

Rika became the soft hand of philanthropy. She smiled kindly at them and took Roland by the elbow. "Come with me. I think we might still have a bit of cocoa left, and if not there's always some tea. I'll go make it for you." She offered.

"I'll come with you." Chaz said a moment after, quickly. It wasn't that he was thirsty as well; it was because he didn't want Rika alone with two strangers he barely knew. They could be dangerous, and if they were Chaz wanted to be around to protect her. No amount of misdirected attention would stop him from caring about something like that.

For her own worth Rika was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, armed or not, but she didn't mind any extra attention Chaz chose to give her. Those two could also do with some warming up, so hopefully they had some extra blankets packed up around the digger somewhere. "Okay then, everybody follow me." She instructed and the two palmans and one dezorian followed her out of the bridge and into the corridor, leaving a little trail of melting ice and water behind them.

Once they were gone from the bridge and silence descended once more Rune's shoulders drooped and the esper expressed a sigh. "Didn't her mother ever tell her never to pick up hitchhikers? They'll eat all our rations, stink up the place and probably wind up knifing somebody in the end."

"I never really knew my mother. The esper mansion took me away from her when I was really little." Kyra mused, speaking with a lack of sadness suggesting she was never very troubled by this fact.

"Yeah, me too." Rune added with equal casualness.

"I also do not have a mother." Wren contributed to the conversation as he got back to driving the ice digger through the storm. Everything lurched for a second as motion continued with the treads below them. Meese was not very far away.

"Huh, now that's interesting. Rika doesn't have one either and I'm not real sure about Chaz. Is it a prerequisite to be on this journey or something? I guess it could make us a little tougher than most, I suppose. What do you think, Rune?" Kyra questioned him.

The Lutz just shrugged. It wasn't important. "I think I want to get off this damn digger and in front of a fireplace as soon as possible." He groaned.

Kyra sidled over to Rune and stretched an arm around his shoulders. "Like, a warm fireplace in a private room away from all these loveable, yet amazingly annoying people? Can I come? I won't be that annoying. I promise." She suggested, speaking in a softer tone than usual.

Rune looked down upon her at his side, smirking. That might lift his spirits a little. Just a little, mind you. "Hm, let's wait and see. I have nothing else to do today."

"Sounds good to me." Kyra laughed. She wasn't quite a giggling or tittering girl. That was one of the things he liked about her.

"I happen to still be in the room, just so you know." Wren interrupted without looking away from the windscreen and his driving. He didn't need to look around to know that Rune and Kyra had flinched. People tended to forget he was there if he remained silent long enough. The android shifted the digger down a gear. "It is best to keep that kind of discussion private."

Instead of feeling embarrassed Kyra actually felt… better, somehow? Maybe if he knew one of her secrets it didn't mean so much to know one of his. "Ooh, you rat fink!" She scolded and dashed over to him, leaning over the driver's seat and thumping him gently on the head. "You were eavesdropping! You'd better not go spreading any rumours now!"

"It is not in my nature to talk about people unnecessarily, Kyra. … Could you please stop hitting me? I am trying to drive." Wren asked politely.

"Don't worry about him; he's not going to talk." Rune reassured Kyra as he carelessly tossed his ponytail over one shoulder. He extended his arm out to her. "Let's go have a discussion in private then, there's nothing interesting to do in here except stare at the wall."

So shortly after that they were gone too and the bridge was left empty. Mostly empty, anyway.

The journey continued on.

xxx

Scarcely ten minutes away from their destination Wren was attacked, and not safely outside of the ice digger where he could easily use the exterior napalm cannons. It was an attack from behind, nearly causing him to lose his control of the steering wheel by pre-programmed reflex alone.

Roland's feet didn't create an echo on the metal floor, he had removed most of his heavy insulating clothes and his boots after that pink-haired angel had given him the best mug of cocoa he'd had in years. Valos was still in one of the back bunkers talking with the other ones, but Roland had a short attention span and got bored easily, besides, there was an utterly serious reason why he had to get to Meese on time.

He snuck up on Wren quietly and then attacked him from the side, throwing his arms around his friend with a small shout designed for surprise. Wren reacted rather well considering the unexpected shock. His hand immediately slipped from the steering wheel and activated the advanced autopilot, paired with the GPS that would lead them safely to Meese on its own. They'd just better hope there'd be no more hitchhikers in the path, or else that was just way too bad for them.

Wren managed to place an arm between himself and Roland in order to keep the palman away. The dark blond had a mischievous grin on his face. "What on Dezoris is wrong with you? You could have made us crash." Wren accused calmly, but there was an edge of slight anger underlining his tone. He didn't want to be responsible for killing all his friends pointlessly.

"Wow, listen to you! I see you've been trying to kick the dictionary talk. How's that going for you?" Roland asked, genuinely curious. He remembered Wren from the bar, but this same android seemed a little different somehow. It had only been a handful of days but this could only be chalked up to Valos and his own good advice.

"It… is not something I seem to be able to control. The more time I spend with people and the more dialogue is exchanged my speech patterns are adjusted accordingly. This is merely the product of my time spent on Dezoris and the interactions of its inhabitants." Wren said, slowly pushing Roland away from him. It was probably why Demi had such an interesting vocabulary at times, after all the years working on Nurvus and Motavia.

Roland allowed himself to be pushed away, standing and shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants. "That's still good. Thanks again for not running us over, by the way."

"That was Chaz's decision."

"Say, whatever happened to that lady you were talking about the other day? Your little sweetheart? Did you manage to get any?" Roland asked casually, proving that he was an utter stranger to tact. He watched Wren look away from him and focus back on the snowy white road, removing the autopilot now that he was not in the process of being assaulted. A thought came to the young palman. "Was it that cutie with the pink hair, or the feisty tomboyish one?"

No, no, it wasn't even a woman at all. Roland was way off the mark. Before the android could say anything, however, Valos strode back into the bridge. Chaz was following beside him in amusement. This dezorian certainly had some interesting tales. "Are we there yet? Valos just told everybody the reason why they were travelling in the storm. He says his buddy's sister was hit by the black energy wave. He wants to go see her and make sure she gets better."

"Now why would you go and tell a story like that?" Roland accused his friend with a weak glare, folding his arms across his front. It sounded like he thought it was a story that wasn't worth telling.

"They did save our lives. I thought they deserved to know the reason why we decided to risk them. Mellow out, Roland. These are some good people." The dezorian replied peacefully, with serenity like that of a sage.

"We will be at our destination in just under two minutes." Wren answered Chaz. The weather was beginning to let up a little, though not by much, and they could just vaguely see a long brown smear in the distance at the foot of the mountains, growing larger as time went by.

Rika, Rune and Kyra showed up in the bridge one after the other, so the entire population of the ice digger was now in one room. Rika pulled the long coat Valos had leant her tightly around her pyjamas. "I really need to find a tailor then I can't wait to tell Raja about everything we've done! He'll be so proud of us."

"I guess I'll go book some inn rooms for everyone." Rune volunteered, scratching his head. While he was at it he'd made sure to organise something special just for himself.

Then the fantastic idea struck. Roland threw one arm around Chaz and the other around Rune. With his arms outstretched his undercoat fell open, revealing on his belt a rather impressive collection of knives. "Hey! You know what? Why doesn't everyone come on down to the Meese bar after dark and we can pay you back for the lift on this thing? Drinks will be on us all night long. What do you say?"

Rune warmed up like somebody had lit a fire beneath his boots. He pulled Roland towards him in what was almost a headlock. "I take back every bad thing I've said about you. I'll definitely be there to collect." He declared.

"Me too!" Kyra agreed.

"I'll join in if I can get something non-alcoholic." Rika smiled.

"I don't wanna be the odd one out tonight." Chaz commented as he pried himself free of the other palman's grip. He rather enjoyed their evenings together having fun. It was a nice counterpoint to the fighting and the danger.

At last the ice digger rolled to its final halt for the day. Wren put on the handbrake and switched off the ignition. The rumbling stilled and everybody noticed the change. He stood from his seat and faced the others, laying an arm on the headrest of the chair. "We have arrived. The outskirts of the village are three hundred meters from our current location. Shall we depart? Also, I will come with you this evening. I don't want to be on my own." He said.

"All right, let's go."

"Ugh, but it's going to be so cold out there…"

"You can stay on the ice digger if you want, you sissy."

"Shut up, Rune."