Noriko groaned and groggily tried to open her eyes, but the spinning ceiling did nothing for her aching body and overtaxed mind. Why is the ship spinning? she wondered slowly as she tried to take a few deep breaths, but she only succeeded in causing a coughing fit that lasted a good few minutes. A cool hand rested on her forehead, and a soothing voice spoke to her. What is she saying? Noriko thought to herself wearily. Why can't I hear her? I know I could understand her… if I could just hear her… The cool hand lifted from her brow and was replaced with a damp cloth. Noriko shivered slightly as chilled water trickled down her neck, and was only vaguely aware of the blankets being pulled closer. The darkness at the edges of her vision surged forward and fell back, constantly threatening to overpower her senses. How tempting it was to fall into the darkness and just let go! No worries would follow her there. A small red flag waved madly at the back of Noriko's conscious. She knew there was something she was supposed to care about, but the whisper of sleep echoed too strongly across her mind for her to resist.

"The poor girl…" Auntie said softly as she contemplated Noriko's unhappy face. "Staying outside in that downpour all night made her sicker than we thought. If she's not careful, she won't live to see Izark return."

"You think he'll return?" a wraith-like child asked her, watching Noriko with dark and serious eyes. Auntie shifted her gaze to the child whose recent torments had surpassed even the Grey Bird Tribe leader's imaginings.

"If he doesn't return, Miette, he and Noriko are worse than dead," Auntie said gravely, her piercing gaze catching Miette's eyes. "You know of fates that are beyond the darkness of what death brings to us, so it must not be taken lightly that Izark has not yet returned to her." The worries Auntie spoke of were even heavier than she had let on, and the silence that followed her statement was punctuated only by Noriko's labored breathing. Auntie turned away from the girl, somewhat unsettled by the vehemence with which she had responded. Her worries about Noriko were grave indeed, she reflected, if she was reduced snapping at an unknowledgeable child.

Noriko shifted, her fall into sleep as uneasy as the ship's passage through the storm the prior night. Auntie watched her for a minute before settling herself in for a long evening of nurse-duty.


The dark clouds that enveloped Noriko's mind soon lifted, showing not the ship's interior, but fields upon fields full of waving wildflowers and emerald-green grass. The soft breeze pulled at Noriko's hair, urging her to run through the nodding flowers and scented grass, the sun's rays warming her back through the thin cloth. Noriko laughed as a cloud of butterflies erupted before her, their gossamer wings blinking in the sunlight like jewels by a fire's flames. Falling back into the flowers, Noriko gave a gentle sigh and watched the clouds as they passed by. One of them actually looked like her math textbook… but she let it continue, not wanting to focus on her least favorite aspect of her old world. Cloud after cloud drifted past, their bright fluffiness only set off by the deep blue of the sky behind them. Noriko stretched, drowsiness starting to set in with the serene and restful nature of the field.

A piercing scream shocked Noriko wide awake, and as she bolted upright in the field, the scream continued on. Noriko stood up hurriedly, dusting off her dress before anxiously running toward the direction the scream had come in. Perhaps it was Auntie, or Geena. Her steps faltered for a second as she thought of the possibility of it being Tazasheena, but that woman had left them to their own devices after losing all credibility with her lord. As Noriko crested a hill, she slowed her run to a walk, the scene before her as strange as this world had first seemed when she had fallen into it. Standing in the middle of one of the flowered fields was a little dark haired boy, with eyes that could pierce a soul, and a heart-breaking smile. In his hands were the stems to at least two or three dozen wildflowers, all missing the petals, which had found their way into his hair and onto his clothes. His forlorn look seemed to have no cause, until Noriko realized there was a woman sitting a few feet away from him, her hand and arm covering her face as though she were scared of being hurt. Even though they were far away, the woman's high-pitched screams were traveling to Noriko easily.

"Get away from me! How could you even come out here to look for me? You are not my child, and you never will be! You are the spawn of monsters, and everyone will hate you once they know your true identity!"

At this, the little child seemed to struggle to say something, holding up the empty stems as though they were a peace offering.

"You wanted to bring me flowers? NOTHING could reconcile you to me! You are worthless and mean nothing to me! Do you hear me? NOTHING!" With this last cry, the woman scrambled to her feet and ran, disappearing from Noriko's sight. The little boy's tears flowed freely, breaking the paralysis that had spread over Noriko's limbs. She ran to the little boy and fell on her knees, holding him against her as his sobs shook his body and his tears wet her hair. She stroked his back gently, rocking back and forth as the little child poured his heart out in tear after tear. His ragged breathing slowed as the sun was setting, and Noriko loosened her hold enough to look him in the face. His piercing eyes locked onto Noriko's own, and a flash of recognition coursed through her.

"Izark…" she whispered. Noriko's own tears wet her cheeks as she pulled him back into a fierce hug. His soft whimpers could barely be heard anymore, and as the last rays of the sun spent themselves, he barely heard her whisper…

"I'll never leave you…"