Final Poke Mario Fan here, next chapter prepared, here we go!

Disclaimer: With the exception of my OCs and my vision of Pasca, I own nothing.

Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology II: Trials of Life

Chapter 45: Alex: Reconciliation

(CAUTION: This chapter is slightly sexually explicit, as the incident from Chapter 37 is brought up again.)


"GAAAAAAH!"

"… Lodric, are you all right?"

"Ugh… Yeah, I'll be fine, Akena. He got me pretty good, but I should be okay for now."

"Should I heal you, Lodric?"

"No, save it, _. Fimoce's more hurt than I am, use your spells on him. Even so… damn, this is tough! "

"TAKE THIS, YOU BASTARD!"

"What the- it missed again?"

"Lodric! He's coming again! Don't let your guard down!"

"I know, Protus! Damn it, what the hell is with this guy? He's much stronger than the final dragon!"

Pain. Pain in the arms. Pain in the legs. Pain in the chest. Is our connection getting stronger? Ever since he embraced that woman, I can feel more and more of him. The pain I'm feeling is very faint, but it must be much better compared to what he's going through.

"Akena! Behind you!"

"I'm on it! O countless falling stars, come forth! METEOR STORM!"

"What the hell? He can even dodge that? Something's wrong, guys! We need to pin him down somehow!"

"It's no use, Fimoce! I've given it everything I got, but he just keeps evading me! It's like he's hooking around every attack I use and strikes me from behind!"

"Wait a minute...'Hooking around'?"

"Did you get an idea, _?"

"Yes! ..."

"I see, I finally get it! Alright everyone, let's do it! TAKE THIS!"

"It's working! We've got him where we want it! Solbes, finish him off!"

"Leave it to me! Prepare to face a fate worse than Hell itself! SOUL DIVIDER!"


Alex opened his eyes, sitting up in the cart he was in. His eyes turned to the brilliant sky, the sun shooting upwards. He yawned, stretched his arms, then looked back at the rest of the group. The caravan was travelling down a dirt road, headed off the main roads so that they could meet up with the UFTW. According to the scouts, they had made contact with the main force, and were approximately about a day and a half to the main force.

We're almost there...I'm getting kinda nervous! It's been so long since I've seen the rest of the group! I wonder how they'll react to me and Kanonno. I can understand them getting excited over Kanonno, since she was always friendly with them, but I won't be surprised if they don't put up much of a fuss over me. I wasn't exactly the most sociable of people, after all. But that was the old me, the "me" who refused contact with others out of fear of getting hurt and hurting them with my inevitable parting. But that "me" is no more! I've changed! I want them to see the new me, the one who will gladly be their friend until the end with a smile on his face! I know it may be too late, but...I want them to accept this new "me"!

"Good morning, Alex."

Alex turned to his left to see Eugene walking near his cart, carrying his spear on his back. Alex managed a smile, and began speaking "Good morning, Eugene. This is a rare visit. I've never seen you come over to me before today."

"Given that you're close to your recovery, I'd say that I could pay you a visit. After all, we should reunite with the rest of the UFTW by tomorrow night. It's a shame, because according to the scouts, the main force is planning an attack today on Fort Revae," Eugene said, shaking his head.

Alex looked at Eugene with surprise, "Huh? I never heard of that before! Why didn't you tell me about it?"

Eugene frowned, "You and Kanonno are no longer generals. Therefore, you are not privy to that information anymore. Furthermore, just look at yourself. I admit that you're in much better shape than you were when we left Depas, but you're not ready to fight in a life-or-death battle yet. If I had told you about that earlier, you might have done something reckless."

"What makes you think that?"

"I know what you're thinking right now, Alex. You haven't been in a battle for three months now, you were captured by the Pascans, spent an entire month lying down on a bed, and have spent the last few weeks recuperating, Therefore, judging by your personality, I think you're frustrated that you haven't really contributed to the war effort in this time, and want to make it up in some sort of way. Am I right?"

Alex's eyes widened, his mouth dropped slightly, "You're right...that's exactly how I feel now. How did you know, Eugene?"

"I've seen soldiers in the same position as you who have felt the exact same way. I know what you're going through, Alex, but even you must be aware of your body's limitations right now. If you tried fighting in your state, you'd be defeated easily and probably killed. Descender or not, you're still a living being, and all living beings must heal when they've been wounded. You understand, don't you?"

Alex nodded, "Yes. I know what you mean. If I had to make an estimate, I'd say I'm about sixty percent back to normal right now. But Mia's been a great help in my physical recovery. She seemed to know everything I needed in order to get back into fighting shape, and did it in a really quick amount of time, too. I owe a lot to her right now,"

Eugene looked around him for a second, and then looked at Alex, "What do you think of Mia? Are you saying we can trust her?"

Alex paused, and frowned, "...I don't know. I don't know what's she's thinking. I can't tell if she's being honest, is a spy, or if she has some sort of ulterior motive. I mean, it feels like she has good intentions, but I just can't tell."

"What do you think would be the worst-case scenario, then?" Eugene asked.

"Hmm...I guess the worst possibility is that she's working directly for Valvus. I mean, she got us out of our cells fairly easily, knew about my teleportation power, and has good knowledge of the way we fight. If she's working for Valvus, he could have told her everything, sent her to rescue us and get us out of there as a ploy to gain our trust so that she can spy on our moves. That's what I think."

"Then in that case-"

"But I never said that's what I really believe. I only said that it's the worst case scenario. If that's what it really is, then that would mean she's an enemy. But I...I want to believe in her. I know she's not telling us everything and that she's got some plans of her own, but I want to trust her, that even though I have no basis to trust her with, that I should trust her and believe in what she's doing. I know it sounds really gullible and that I may be nothing but a fool for this, but I trust that Mia is a good person who has nothing but pure intentions for us."

Eugene looked a little surprised at Alex, "Alex, you've matured. I don't necessarily agree with everything you just said, but I'm impressed that you're that willing to trust a person. Still, trusting someone without a solid basis is very dangerous...I would be more careful around Mia if I were you."

"..."


"Stahn! Wake up already!"

"Zzz...Zzz...Zzz..."

"Damn it, wake up right now!"

"Zzz...So noisy...five more minutes...Zzz..."

"I can't believe this guy! Wait a minute, that's right, didn't Lilith say...Right! I'll just go get it now!"

"Zzz...Zzz...Zzz..."

"Hey Stahn..."

"Zzz...Zzz...Zzz..."

"RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!"

BANG! BANG! BANG!

"AHHHHHHH!"

Stahn shot up out of his cot, turning his head left and right. Rutee was standing a little bit away from him, holding a frying pan and a ladle in her hand, shaking her head and sighing.

"Geez, what is it with you, Stahn? It's practically like this every day? Am I going to have to do this to you forever? I feel bad for Lilith and your grandfather, or anyone who'd have to put up with that for any extended period of time for that matter," Rutee said, shaking her head.

Stahn yawned, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, "...Yeah, yeah, I'm up, I'm up. What is it?"

Rutee sighed, "We're going to discuss our next battle plan now, so we're all gathering in the main tent. But because it took you so long to wake up, you're just going to have to eat while we march to the fort. Got it?"

"Zzz...Zzz...Zzz..."

"DON'T GO BACK TO SLEEP WHEN I'M TALKING!"


The UFTW's main officers and Ad Libitum had gathered around a table in the main tent, overlooking a map of Western Scollance. Several markers had been placed at various points in the map, colored red and blue. The one most people were focused on was a red marker near the edge of the mountains on the southeastern side of the map. Jay walked over to that point of the map, and started pointing to a white marker close to the red marker.

"As you can see, this is our current position. Given that the last town was quite a while away, it's only natural that we can't call for reinforcements during this battle, or at least not ones that will get here quickly enough. However, General Gallardo's caravan is coming this way, and should reach here by tomorrow night. But the enemy is acting strange, and there's been a large concentration of them moving in towards the fort over the last few days. We can't stall any longer, so we need to attack without there help to take over this fort. Now then, on to information regarding the fort."

Jay pointed back to the red marker, "This is Fort Revae, the last stronghold the Pascans hold on the western side of the Scollance mountains. We've recently received word from the UFTW unit fighting in Southern Scollance, and they've informed us that they've completed their conquest of the region, and are awaiting us to finish up here so that we can assault Helmos, the largest port in all of Pasca. Once that's done, we'll move up to the capital and launch an attack. However, let's focus on the issue of the fort itself.

"Compared to some of the recent battles we've been having, we're not quite sure how to rank this fort. While the defenses of the fort are higher due to its positioning, at the same time, their overall numbers are very low compared to what we've faced recently. Regardless, we cannot take them lightly due to aforementioned defenses. Therefore, we've decided to play this battle by running a sabotage operation. If it works, we'll be able to wipe out the enemy while disabling the defenses at the same time. Now then, here's how it'll work..."

Suddenly, the meeting was interrupted by a UFTW soldier running into the tent. He saluted, then ran over to Kratos.

"General Aurion, there's a problem!" The messsenger reported.

Kratos paid full attention towards him, "Speak up. What is this problem?"

"Our scouts have reported that the enemy has sent a fourth of their forces to the northwest! The troops that left were mostly lightly armored and were about half of the enemy's cavalry!" The messenger said.

Jade frowned, "My, my, half of the cavalry, you say? That's strange... why would the Pascans even consider doing such a thing? They know we're out to take their fort, so they send away their most powerful force before doing so?"

"Wait a minute. Didn't you say earlier that General Gallardo's unit was coming from that direction?" Raine asked, concerned.

Kratos frowned, "Of course, that's it. They're after Alex and Kanonno. Information about their arrival and their position must have leaked. This is bad... we're only just about to get them back. We cannot afford to lose them twice."

"Then what should we do? Can't we send them so help, or if not, then go ourselves?" Chester asked.

"We can afford about 200 soldiers to help them. However, considering that this is a fourth of their forces, this means we can afford to cut some corners on the current operation if we keep the full force," Kratos said.

"General Aurion! Are you suggesting we just leave them to fend for themselves?" Farah asked, shocked.

Jay stepped forward, "Actually, we can afford to spare about 120 men to pursue the enemy. If we send a portion of both General Curtiss's unit and General Aurion's unit, then we can still execute the plan with the appropriate numbers over hear. Would that be satisfactory? 60 men from each of your units: 20 cavalry and 40 infantry each."

Kratos paused for a minute in contemplation before rising his head, "That is acceptable."

"I have no objections with it. I'll still have enough men left to complete the operation," Jade said, pushing his glasses up.

"Then it's decided. With the exception of 120 less men, the plan will proceed without major alterations. We'll have to take into account the Pascans reduced numbers as well..."


"Well done, Isaac, well done!"

Isaac stood in the middle of a dark room, panting as he gazed at the scene before him. Many dead soldiers stood before him, many of them UFTW prisoners. However, there were quite a few Pascan soldiers amongst the dead as well, wearing the colors of Tribilin's unit. In each of Isaac's hands were training swords, though there were other training weapons around him as well. His body was nearly entirely covered by white armor, yet despite the heavy burden, his body still moved swiftly. Tribilin stood in the corner, watching with a smile.

"... All enemy units have been exterminated. No signs of life-"

A soldier twitched, groaning on the ground. Without missing a beat, Isaac rushed over to the downed soldier and slashed across his throat. The soldier instantly stopped moving, now dead.

"-detected."

"Good, good! You're making much faster progress than I expected! At this rate, you'll be combat ready in a few weeks. And with your condition being what it is, we've got to get as much use out of you as possible in these next few months. Heh heh heh... you're going to be my ultimate trump card, Isaac Taophen. Just remember what I told you."

"I understand, Master Hemoses. You are the one who gave me this form, and I pledge to you my eternal loyalty."

Tribilin nodded, "Excellent. Very well then, let us take a break for lunch. There are some more things I have to explain to you then..."


"Well, I'd say that you and Lieutenant Terresca are ready to go."

Kanonno looked up at the healer in surprise. It was time for her daily check ups, and so she had gone to see the healer. When she got there, she found Alex already there, speaking with the healer. All they could do was awkwardly glanced at each other for a second, then turn away. Back to the present...

"Seriously? We're already healed?" Kanonno asked.

The healer nodded, "Yes. You've regained nearly all of your motor functions, and your muscles had virtually healed up completely. Furthermore, you've been doing well in your combat excercises, though I must ask you to be careful the next time you're in battle: not because you can't do it, but because it's been a while since you've been in a battle, so your skills may not be fully prepared yet. Just watch yourself out there. Other than that, you can go."

Kanonno smiled, "Thank you very much for everything you've done for me in the past month! If it weren't for you, I might still be lying down in bed."

The doctor laughed, "Nonsense! Any doctor with therapeutical knowledge could have done this! I just happened to be the one who was assigned to you, that's all."

"Even so, that doesn't change the fact that you were the one who did all of that. You really should give yourself more credit, I honestly didn't believe that we'd be ready to go so quickly. Don't be so quick to sell yourself short."

"Ahaha, thank you, Colonel Earhart! You're too kind, honestly!"

Just then, Alex came out of the reverse side of the caravan, having finished speaking to the psychologist. He turned around, said a few words to the psychologist, and nodded. Just then, his eyes met with Kanonno's. The instant she saw him...

The image of Alex lying across from her, smirking, panting like an animal, violently trying to break free of his restraints, and then-

Kanonno turned her head away, trying to get that image out of her mind. Alex sadly turned away as well, and started walking away from the caravan. Kanonno shook her head several times, and once she felt she had gotten the image out of her head, she began to walk away as well.

"Colonel Earhart, wait a minute," A voice said.

Kanonno turned around, having noticed the voice belonging to the psychologist, who sat on the other end of the caravan. Confused, she walked over towards him, "Yes, what is it?"

"Can I speak to you for a minute?" The psychologist asked.

Kanonno nodded, and stepped back into the caravan. The psychologist was currently writing something down into what appeared to be a notebook. Light flowed into the normally dark caravan from the open canopy from where Kanonno had entered from. A wooden wall of sorts separated the healer from the psychologist, who finished up his notes and looked up.

"I saw what happened just now. Colonel Earhart, are you still angry at Lieutenant Terresca? I know we've been trying to tackle this for the last month or so, but it doesn't seem like your relationship is improving. I know that you've just been cleared for battle, so if it doesn't improve soon, it could cause some serious problems," The psychologist said.

Kanonno frowned, tilting her head downwards, "I know that, really! But I… I don't know what to feel about him. Even... even when I'm trying to think of way to express it right now, I'm just so torn between it all! On one hand, I want to forgive Alex and try to move on. I want to return to the way we were before all of this happened. But whenever I see him..."

The image of Alex lying across from her, smirking, panting like an animal, violently trying to break free of his restraints, and then-

"All I can see is that image! I don't want to remember all of that! I feel sick everytime I remember, and so I can't bear to look at him. I never thought Alex would actually do something like that! I thought he would have looked away, or at the very least, not done that, but... but... If that had never happened, I could easily reconnect with him right away! But as things stand now... I just can't..."

The psychologist sighed, and rubbed his eyes, turning to a page in his notebook, "Colonel Earhart, listen carefully. I'm supposedly under orders not to tell you anything that the other has said, but… Lieutenant Terresca has told me his side of the incident. I wasn't fully able to understand the details, but I thought you might want to hear this. Like it or not, you did work alongside this Tribilin for years, so you may actually be able to understand this story."

Kanonno paused. What… what should I do? Alex… what does Alex have to say about this?

"… All right then. Tell me the details," Kanonno said.

"He acknowledges that on that day, he saw you naked, and admits to… doing that. However, the interesting thing is what happened before that. Lieutenant Terresca says on that day, he was given drugs in his food, as you both were every meal. However, he told me on that day, they put something else in his food. But he only seemed to consider this a minor detail, considering everything else that happened that day," The psychologist said, flipping through his notebook.

Kanonno raised an eyebrow, "Another drug? Did he mention what it looked like, smelled like, or tasted like?"

The psychologist frowned, "He told me that he couldn't see it because it was in bread, and he didn't have time to smell it. However, he said that later, when he had broken free of the drug's influence, he could clearly tell the afteraste. It was the taste of rosemary mixed with saffron."

Upon hearing those words, Kanonno gasped, and a memory hit her like lightning…


Kanonno, in her Belladonna armor, watched in horror as the prisoner in the cell in front of her violently thrashed around in his cell. There were several soldiers in the cell with him, each one of them unarmed. One of them charged straight at the prisoner, but the prisoner grabbed both of his arms, twisted them, and threw the soldier to the floor. Before the soldier could recover, the prisoner straddled the soldier, grabbed him by the neck, and started violently strangling him. As this was going on, the prisoner lifted the soldier's neck and kept bashing his head into the ground. Blood splashed everywhere as the assault continued, and the remaining soldiers could only watch in horror at the spectacle in front of them.

Suddenly, Kanonno heard footsteps, and frowned when she saw Tribilin walking towards the cell, his trademark smirk on his face, "Quite the show, wouldn't you say?"

"All right, Tribilin, what have you done this time?" Kanonno said, her voice containing a slightly sharp edge to it.

"My, my, what makes you think I had something to do with this?"

"Because whenever something strange like this happens, it always turns out to be the result of one of your experiments or something like that."

"Ahahaha, what can I say? You catch on quick, Belladonna. All right, I'll tell you my secret. You see, I put some of this in the prisoner's food just now," Tribilin said this, then reached into his pocket, where he pulled out a small case of pills, handing it over to Kanonno. Kanonno looked at the label, and frowned.

"PRIMALIS REVERTIS? What kind of name is that? It sounds like you just randomly made up two words on the fly and stuck them to a medicine bottle. Then again, a lot of your medicines are like that. So, what's this one do?"

Tribilin just smiled, "What, you can't tell by the name? 'Primalis Revertis. In order words, to revert someone to their primal instincts. It is made up of all sorts of nasty ingredients, so in order to disguise the taste, I included rosemary and saffron to the formula. It doesn't add anything, but it makes the pill easier to swallow. If I didn't include it, they might throw it back up, so I had to include that. Needless to say, results like this… have been occurring quite more frequently. Heh heh heh…"

The implication behind Tribilin's words caused Kanonno to feel a shiver run up her spine, but she tried to repress it as she looked back at the scene, "So by reverting him to his primal instincts you mean… you turned him into this?"

"Humans are cruel beasts deep down. They desire nothing more but to eradicate all those who stand in their way, to have as much power as possible, and to remove anyone they see as a threat. It's mere competition, the survival of the fittest. While nowadays, humans try to achieve such goals through blackmail, manipulation, and social techniques, what they truly wish for deep down is to kill their enemies. And when humans lose all reason and revert to their primal instincts, they can achieve that goal. That's what I intend to create here."

"So this drug makes them become incredibly violent? Then why are those men fighting him?"

"I promised that if any of them can kill him unarmed, I'll pay them 25,000 Gald. What I didn't tell them is that he used to be a strong soldier before he was sent to these dungeons for insubordination. His current strength is being augmented by the drugs, so he'll have no problem killing them. Furthermore, he considers all of those who are not him a threat. But you're not entirely right. It doesn't just turn them into violent, bloodthirsty killing machines."

Kanonno once again felt a chill through her body, "What do you mean?"

Tribilin's expression actually darkened, "What I'm saying is if I had thrown a woman in that room instead of men, he'd be screwing the living shit out of her instead of killing her. Procreation and pleasure are two more of human's primal instincts. Naturally, sex accomplishes both of these traits. And if I were to restrain him and she was naked, that wouldn't stop him from pleasuring himself to the sight of her body. It's practically guaranteed to happen."

Nausea welled up in Kanonno's throat. She looked up at Tribilin in disgust, fully expecting him to be smirking. Instead, she was surprised to find his expression neutral, no hint of a smile anywhere on it. She then quietly left the dungeon, heading back upstairs...


Kanonno's eyes widened, and she fell to her knees, her whole body shaking, "What… what have… what have I done? All this time… I've been blaming Alex for something that wasn't his fault! I… I…"

The psychologist looked at Kanonno with concern, "Colonel Earhart, are you all right?"

Kanonno's head quickly shot up, "Where's Al- where's Lieutenant Terresca now?"

"As you know, I spoke to him just before you came in. He should be by his cart, I believe."

Kanonno then sprung to her feet, then quickly ran out, ignoring the psychologist's voice as he called out for her. Her legs felt slightly off, but the weeks of physical therapy had clearly paid off, as she could now run through the fields without problem, and was almost running as fast as she could before she got captured. Many of the UFTW soldiers looked in shock, but Kanonno didn't have time to address them as she headed to her destination as fast as she could. Many thoughts rushed through her head as she dashed.

I understand… I finally understand. From the start, Alex was never in the wrong. I kept telling myself he would never do something like that, and I was right. It was Tribilin's fault again… it's always his fault. He put Alex through that specifically so that I would lose my trust in him. I can still remember what I told Tribilin right after they stripped me naked and told me they were bringing Alex in.

"It's all right… I trust Alex… He won't give in to your trap… he won't do anything! Alex isn't that kind of person! Not everyone believes in the same things you do, Tribilin!"

No… that excuses nothing. It's true that my initial belief was correct, but that doesn't change the fact that I've been wrong about him the rest of the time and treating him terribly for something that wasn't his fault. While I've felt like the victim this whole time, now it all makes sense. Alex wasn't ignoring me, nor was I giving him the cold shoulder. Well, I was, but that's not the point. The point is that Alex must have been suffering just as much as I am. He doesn't even realize that it was the drug that made him do that! If he did, then he would have said something a long time ago!

Kanonno finally found Alex at his cart, just as the psychologist said he'd be. He was walking with slightly unsteady, but mostly firm steps, talking too several soldiers. They nodded as he spoke to him, and when he finished, they all went off, and he entered his caravan. Kanonno then looked around, took a deep breath, and climbed aboard, approaching Alex.

Alex looked up at Kanonno, mixed feelings clearly reflected in his eyes, "O-Oh, Kanonno... what it is?"

"Um, well, er, you see..."

Why? Why am I having trouble saying it? What happened to your resolve, Kanonno!

"Kanonno?"

"I'm sorry! It wasn't your fault!"

Alex's mouth dropped slightly, "Huh? What... are you talking about?"

"All this time, I've been blaming you for what happened down in the dungeons of Lavard, but it wasn't! It wasn't your fault! You did absolutely nothing wrong, and I shouldn't have treated you the way I have for the past few months!"

Alex gritted his teeth, and shouted, "Kanonno, stop! Why... why are you saying this? Why are you even talking to me? I don't deserve to even speak to you!"

Unable to control himself, the words that Alex had been holding back to Kanonno finally poured out, "You did absolutely nothing wrong, and yet I had to go and do that! How could anyone want to speak to me again after committing such a terrible crime! I should have been trying to help you, yet all I could think about was... Anyway, I'm worse than scum... I'm even lower than Tribilin for doing-"

"NO! It wasn't you, it was the drug!"

Alex looked at Kanonno, stunned, "What do you mean?"

"On the day it happened, you tasted a strange drug in your food, didn't you? I heard about it. Alex, that wasn't just an ordinary drug you took. It was a special drug Tribilin made called Primalis Revertis."

"What's that?"

"It's a drug that, when taken by humans, reduces all of their thought processes and instincts down to the basic level. They When humanity started out, people had no language, no culture, no laws. They acted purely on instinct and did whatever their bodies wanted. Their thoughts were limited to basic levels, such as, for hunger 'I want to eat this', or when thirsty 'I want to drink'. There was very little more to their thoughts than that. For example... when you heard someone approaching that you couldn't see, was your first thought to kill them?"

Alex, who was listening intently to Kanonno's words, shifted through his memories of that day, finally fully breaking through the lock he had constructed to block all the memories of that day. He then remembered something:


Alex suddenly heard a noise coming from directly ahead of him. He braced himself, preparing for anything Tribilin had to throw at him.

Destroy it. What you cannot see is a threat.


"Your thoughts were reduced to that level by the time you were set up in that chamber. When you saw me naked, you had already lost all rational thought. I-It's hard for me to say this, b-but... You wanted to... to... have sex with me... didn't you?"

Alex froze, his heart pounding loudly in his chest. He clenched his hands into fists, his shoulders shaking. His breaths were shuddered, and his eyes were cast downwards. After a long time, he finally spoke, "... Yes..."

Kanonno seemed a bit uneasy from that answer, but shook it off and continued speaking, "That was also the result of the drug. It was a primal instinct in you that took over when you saw me naked, and as a result... you did that. Once that happened, the effects of the drug ended, probably because it caused your concentration to return."

Alex looked at himself in shock, "Then... then that means..."

Kanonno nodded, "Yes. This was all planned by Tribilin from the start. Not only did he want to humiliate both of us by bringing us down to that level, but he wanted to promote discord and distrust between the two of us. And, I hate to say it, but... he almost succeeded. If I hadn't learned that you were drugged with Primalis Reverits, I... I didn't know if I'd ever be able to forgive you... I'm such an idiot. It should have been obvious from the start that it was something Tribilin caused."

"Kanonno, I..."

"I was wrong! I'm so sorry! I acted like I was the one who was suffering, but in reality, you must have had it much worse than I did! Not only did you have to deal with me ignoring you all the time, you must have been consumed with the guilt from inside! And my constant ignoring of you made that guilt only worse! I saw it. I saw it in your eyes each time... yet I completely ignored it because I... I... I'm so sorry!"

Kanonno began to cry, tears rolling down her cheeks. Her shoulders trembled as her hands fell to the floor of the caravan. A particularly strong wind blew into the caravan at that moment, blowing Kanonno's tears onto Alex's hands. Alex sat there, taking in all of Kanonno's words in shock, and stared at his hands. The coldness of Kanonno's tear was rushing through his finger.

So... so that means that I wasn't in control of my body at the time? That it was all a drug created by Tribilin that caused me to do that? Then that means... That means I'm innocent! All of it was just another one of Tribilin's tricks! So I never did that out of my own will! That means... that I've been worrying for nothing for the last few months! Still, it feels so good... I finally feel free!

Just then, Alex felt another rush of cold through his finger. He looked up, and saw Kanonno continued to sob. Waves of concern rushed through Alex's body, and his thoughts quickly changed directions.

Wait, what am I doing? Kanonno's blaming herself right now! No! What am I saying? This was still partially my fault! She knew what was wrong with me once she heard of the drugs I took! I should have just told her everything from the start! But if I truly am innocent, then that means everything I've feared for the last three months has been for naught! I can't let her end up like me! She can't go blaming herself for what happened!

And then, as if controlled by some force by above, Alex instinctively did something he had never done in a long time.

Alex embraced Kanonno, her sobbing stopping immediately, replaced by a large gasp. He held her tighter and tighter, his hands around her back. His head was by her shoulder, his nose inches away from her hair. At that moment, the world around them completely faded. There was nothing else in Alex's mind but him and Kanonno here. All thoughts of anyone seeing them or hearing them completely faded away from his mind. All that mattered was the fact that he could feel the warmth of the girl in front of him.

"A-Alex...?"

"It's all right... you don't have to blame yourself. We were both at fault here. If we had just told each other everything from the start, we could have avoided everything! Why were we so blind that we couldn't realize that? But that doesn't matter any more. What happened back in that prison doesn't matter anymore. All that matters is that you and I are right here, alive and well."

"But... but I ignored you for something that wasn't even your fault! I saw it in your eyes each time! You were the one who wanted to approach me while I rejected you! Just minutes ago, you were the one saying you didn't deserve to talk to me! You were doing what I'm doing now! However, unlike you, I truly am guilty! I couldn't even trust you during the last few months!"

Alex shook his head, "That's not true! You still trusted me the whole time! Even if you didn't think so, I know for a fact that you did! And I never fully thought that you had lost all your trust in me either! Deep down, I knew that you still held on to a small bit of faith for me!"

"You're not making any sense! How can you say that?" Kanonno asked through her tears.

Alex smiled warmly at her, "Because if we didn't, why are we still wearing our necklaces?"

Stunned, Kanonno put her hands to her neck. Indeed, she felt the silver chain necklace with the emerald on the end was still there, the metal feeling cool against her skin. Looking at the back of Alex's neck, she saw that his necklace was there as well. She hadn't even remembered putting it on after being captured. Regardless, Alex was right- it was still around her neck, even after all these months.

"We both gave these gems to each other, and they're a symbol of our friendship. Doesn't the fact that we're both still wearing them mean that even through the past couple of months, we still trusted- or rather, wanted to trust- each other to a certain level? I saw that you were wearing the necklace this whole time, but it was only now that I realize what it meant.

"So don't blame yourself. We were both responsible for dragging out this misunderstanding, but in the end, neither of us had anything to do with the cause. There's no need to punish ourselves anymore. Because in the end... what happened doesn't change the fact that I, Alex Terresca, am still your friend, Kanonno. No matter what happens, until the day I die, I swear I will continue to be your friend. I will never lose faith in you."

A few moments of silence paused as Alex's words sunk in. The only sound that the two could hear was the sound of the cart moving along the road. After what seemed like forever, Kanonno finally spoke.

"... Me too."

"Huh?"

Just then, Kanonno embraced Alex back. He felt her strong yet still somewhat thin arms around him, her hands rugged yet still slender. Her head nearly rest on his shoulder, her nose mere inches away from his hair. Her tears had finally stopped, and for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, a genuine smile finally rose to her face.

"I swear I will do the same thing. I will never lose any amount of faith in you ever again, Alex. What you've said now will forever remain in my mind, so that I know that even if everything points against it, I'll know that I can trust you. You're right. I should have realized it all along. You're my best friend, someone who will never abandon me and someone I can always trust. I never want this to happen again... I don't want to lose our friendship over a stupid misunderstanding like this. On my life, I promise that I, Kanonno Earhart, will never lose trust in Alex Terresca ever again."

"Kanonno..."

And then, a completely foreign feeling spread through Alex's body. His entire body felt warm, as if it was being bathed by gentle sunlight. It felt like there was a fire inside his chest, but not a painful kind: rather, it was the warmest sensation that Alex had ever felt in his life, as if the flames were dancing around inside his chest. His head felt slightly warm, It was strange and somewhat embarrassing, yet it was the most comfortable feeling Alex had ever experienced before, something he could never explain in words.

Wh-What is this feeling?

However, before Alex could further contemplate this feeling...

"Enemy attack!"

Alex and Kanonno broke out of their embrace, their expressions now tense. The announcement had come from a soldier outside the caravan, so the two of them looked outside. In the eastern hills, a unit of Pascan soldiers was approaching: some on horseback, some on foot. The rest of the caravan had reacted with surprise, most of them hurrying to prepare their weapons to counterattack...


To be continued in Chapter 46: Immaculate Catharsis.

Hey there! So originally, like Chapters 37-38, this and Immaculate Catharsis were meant to be one chapter, but it became very long, so I decided to split it here. Hope this satisfies you for the time being!

Incidentally, here are some of the changes I made here from my original draft:

- Alex and Kanonno's make up was originally scheduled for Chapter 50. It also would have had some slight Alex x Kanonno in it, but I decided to leave it out in the end so that I could give their relationship more time to develop.

-Alex and Kanonno weren't scheduled to recover until Chapter 48. This change was mostly brought about due to the fact I did some research on physical rehabilitation over the past year, and I learned that it doesn't take as long as I thought it was.

-UPDATE: Removed some text from this chapter that spoiled the next one.