To You in the Deep Blue Sea…
The light cast ever-shifting patterns on his skin… falling… looking up at the constant movement of the barrier, the surface… he would never break it. He was too deep.
'It's ok,' he thought… 'Everyone will be happier now… they… nnn-'
He let out a gasp as water began to force itself down his throat. He tore at his throat with one hand, trying to reach upward with the other… only to remember it was no longer there.
No love left, no purpose left… a morbid smile flickered on his face as he choked. Soon no life would be left either…
He had always been cold… emotionally, physically, literally… as his skin grew icy he could feel his lack of heat… he must have been warmer than he thought once…
The water moved out of the way of his decent and filled in his empty space—the emptiness that he left. He left it everywhere, in everyone he touched. He couldn't help it. It was better than leaving something only to have it taken away suddenly… nothing in the first place couldn't create a vacuum.
That's the way it was… his heart was in a vacuum. He had failed. Every day he felt the sorrow; the sorrow that took his breath away as the memories hit him again.
It was sickly appropriate that he could not reach out with his charred, monstrous lack of arm…
'Hmm… appropriate for a monster like me…'
There was no air left. He knew it was time… time to go. He looked searchingly up at the fading rays of light on the surface. A final thought… that would be appropriate. Maybe he deserved one final goodbye… maybe…
'I… I'm sorry. I'm sorry to you… to you in the deep blue sea…'
No Albel Nox… nowhere in the world…
"Albel's dead. He killed himself."
Those words still rang in Nel's ears as she strode purposely through the snow.
'No. That cannot be right…'
Fayt was running after her. "Nel! Please come back! Cliff wasn't thinking!" Cliff was moaning and holding his face behind Fayt, collapsed by the caravan. Cliff, being himself, had messed up and mentioned why they had been sent to bring the woman to the castle in Airyglyph. After his slip of the tongue, Nel promptly slapped him. Once Nel had stormed off, Clair followed up with another swift slap.
Nel focused on plodding on through the thick snow as Fayt continued to buzz around her… Nel liked Fayt, but in this case she could not bear to sit and listen to his reassurances when the truth was out there.
In her heart, Nel knew it was out there.
Albel would never kill himself. True, he was an extreme person, one who was prone to depression… one who was known for doing stupid things in the moment. However, more than that, Albel was one who hated weakness, especially when others saw it in him. He would never be able to kill himself—"the ultimate weakness", as Albel had told her before.
…Of course, when he had told her that, it had been in insult form, as was everything that came out of Albel's mouth.
Still, Nel knew those words could have been meant for himself rather than his enemy…
She sat on the twisted metal bench, her elbows balanced on her knees, her chin perched on her hands. Gemity… it was a town constructed for the purpose of enjoyment, yet Nel felt more alone than she had ever felt in her life.
Well, not more than she ever had in her life, but…
Nel Zelpher did not like to show weakness… and she was feeling very weak at this point in the journey. She knew Elicoor… on her own planet, she liked to think she was crucial. Yet, in this new world, everything needed explaining. Everything was so different.
Oh, yea. And finding out she wasn't real. That sucked too.
In everything she had done, she had been steadfast, resolute—maybe even in the extreme. But now she could not help but question everything; her home, her God, herself. Nel would never allow herself to admit it, but…
She felt alone.
She was alone.
Her universe was in the process of being destroyed—deleted, she should say… she could very well be the last of the Aquarians, the last of the Elicoordians, even.
Well, except for Albel, but it's not like he would ever find someone willing to pass on his genes…
It's not that she hated Albel, more that… she disliked-slash-borderline-hated him.
No. She was being too harsh.
He was… better than she expected, at least when he wasn't constantly teasing her. He was slightly useful… he didn't call her "maggot" or "worm" or even "fool" like the others… but he did call her "woman", a name which, as an avid feminist, Nel hated. He had, on occasion, called her "Zelpher", which was always a welcome change, but…
In truth, he seemed to have some level of respect for Nel. They were, after all, the only Elicoordians in this unfamiliar world, and she had bested him in battle multiple times. Albel mostly left her alone, only nodding his head to acknowledge her presence occasionally. He tended to be patronizing when he did talk to her, but considering that they had been fighting each other for survival only months ago, he was downright kind.
'Well… THAT'S going a little too far…'
The colorful neon lights blurred as Nel's eyes glazed over, he pupils reacting only to the thoughts playing in her head for which sight was not necessary…
Time was so still in Gemity.
But of course, it was eventually shattered, as everything seemed to be in Nel's world…
The possibly-last-remaining-Airglyphian plopped himself next to the redhead on her lonely bench. He was slurping a red popsicle obnoxiously, making sure to get Nel's attention without directly showing it was his intention.
Zelpher's eyes snapped back to attention, before rolling in a complete circle.
Two could play this game.
Nel did not move a muscle, refusing to acknowledge the skinny twit sitting beside her. One long drag on his popsicle later, Nox still wasn't getting the reaction he had envisioned from his most recent hobby. Minutes later, both foreigners still held their positions, though the annoyance level for each was significantly higher. Finally, Albel sighed, not wanting to waste his 80-fol popsicle further.
"Well, just don't kill yourself. I know you're not a strong person, but suicide is the ultimate weakness." Albel's words glided off his lips as smoothly as did all his witty little comments.
Nel stifled her anger, retaliating calmly, "It's good to reassure yourself, Albel, but in the future please don't bring me into your little masochistic rant."
The young man let out a sarcastic "ha". "You forget, Zelpher, I'm not the weak one."
Her eyebrow twitched.
"Oh really? I forget, I only beat you… how many times?"
Albel snorted and opened his mouth, looking at Nel for the first time in the conversation. His glance turned into a stare. Refusing to give in and meet his eyes, Nel responded by staring in turn at his popsicle. His legs were spread apart and his knees bent in a ninety-degree angle, his arms board-straight as his elbows rested on his knees. His popsicle stuck out of his clammy, thin fingers lower than bench-seat-level. Nel watched his popsicle drip, the artificial red dissolving in the puddles on the cement.
They sat like that for a while. As Nel watched the cold sweet drip down her former-enemy's fingers without a response from the man in question, Nel tried to think of something to say.
"It… I… This world just emanates isolation. I don't understand why they think all this technology is worth it, how they prefer it to somewhere like Elicoor."
Albel Nox turned his head, looking out at the neon lights of the Game Sector. He breathed his words. "You're just not used to it…" after a moment, he added, "at least there's not so much fucking snow."
Nel laughed a little. "I guess I'm not used to that either… snow…"
Albel cocked an eyebrow. "Not in THOSE clothes, you aren't."
"Like you can talk," Nel quickly retorted, eyes narrowing. Albel just glanced at her as the corners of his lips flicked quickly upward. The woman's defensive expression quickly dissolved off her face.
She couldn't find the words to say… Albel had always been in isolation. As would Nel have been, if the Lasbards had not been around…
"We… we're very similar," Albel continued to stare forward as she attempted to form her words.
"I… guess… I just… I don't hate you, Albel."
Nox looked at her out of the corner of his eye as Nel turned her eyes towards the light. If she hadn't turned, she would have been able to see Albel's unbelieving, incredulous smile. It was slight, but all the same…
"Here." He said it briskly, forcing his half-eaten, melting popsicle into Nel's warm hands. Taking advantage of her speechless shock, Albel spoke in another order.
"Don't kill yourself."
With that, he turned and strode towards the Battle Arena, licking the stickiness off his fingers.
"Gee, thanks." Nel muttered in a monotone as she glared at the "gift". She looked at it for several more moments before she was forced to bite it to keep the thing from melting all over her.
Nel Zelpher flung open the doors to the King of Airyglyph's thrown room. Before her time on other planets, Nel would have looked forward to this day as the fall of the Airglyphian Empire, but today, as absurd as it seemed, the woman only prayed for Albel the Wicked's health.
"Your Majesty…!" she exclaimed as collapsed on the ground. She had moved the rest of the way through the mountains on foot and as fast as she could.
The King only looked at her and shook his head.
"I am sorry, Ms. Zelpher… we… we found a self-made grave on the ledge. It is on a cliff… and below it… is the sea…" even the King's voice wobbled as he struggled to keep his composure.
"No. No, this is not right. Albel would never do something like that… tell me everything that happened… I need all the details so I can FIND HIM!!!" Nel's voice grew louder and louder.
"He… yesterday, he returned from the secret passage under the castle… there was supposed to be some sort of beast in the depths of the dungeon, but nearly all of Albel's small force was killed… Albel was fine, only a few scratches, but he was white as an Executioner… he was apparently throwing a fit in his room last night, so no one wanted to go in and check on him, but this morning we found his room in tatters, and…"
The King could not finish, only cover his face with his hand. An attendant filled in the King's words, continuing "we found his sword and claw placed on the cliff, with a crudely carved tombstone… he must have jumped into the water and…"
Nel did not need to hear anymore as she raced out of the castle, running alongside the edge of the cliffs before she came upon the place… a protruding overlook sheltered by one tree. The Crimson Scourge was stabbed into the ground, and just as His Majesty had said, his claw lay in the snow beneath the tree. In its trunk, the tree bore the memory of Albel Nox…
She ran her fingers along the inscription… it was carved hastily and carelessly… just as Albel would have done. The sword… the claw… he would never just leave them. He…
Nel ran towards the edge of the cliff, ready to search the water for Albel with the same urgency as if she had seen him fall only moments ago. Only a strong arm circled around her waist stopped the redhead from diving.
Cliff dragged the struggling woman back as Fayt and Mirage, just now running to Cliff's side, helped to hold her down.
Nel could only scream "NOOO!" as they held her down, letting her fight away all of her energy until she was limp enough to be carried back to the castle.
The light cast ever-shifting patterns on her skin… falling… looking up at the constant movement of the barrier, the surface… she would never break it. She was too deep.
It was early in the morning when Nel woke up. She found herself in a flowing white nightgown between silk sheets and encased in an intricately carved, mahogany bed. The sheets constricted her—she felt as if she were in a coffin. The woman kicked and struggled against the sheets until they came free and the cold breeze of the early morning swept across her skin. Wasting no time, Nel pulled on her combat boots and tied up her nightgown so that it hit mid-thigh (she never liked it when her clothes constricted her). Albel would laugh at her, she thought, but he would have to deal with her clothes if she was going to save him.
Calling upon all her stealth, the Crimson Blade crept carefully out of her room. The door dared not make a single creak under her powerful caress. It was still dark, and no one was awake that Nel could tell. All the same, thiswas Castle Airyglyph, so Nel was sure that there must be guards stationed somewhere.
Quietly, Nel made her way to Albel's chamber. She knew very well where it was, though she had never been inside it. As she reached the door, she quickly unlocked it with a twisted pin she has tucked in her shoe. She let herself into the darkness…
Nel could only make out bits of torn flowing fabric, catching what little light shown through the window as they drifted in the air. She felt around the surface of what felt like Albel's nightstand for matches, a candle, anything. Unable to grasp anything useful, she stumbled over to a dark shadow—what Nel guessed to be a desk—where she found a crumpled package of matches. Striking one, Nel used the small flame to locate a candle, fallen out of its stand and scattered on the ground. Nel placed the twisted wax back into its holder and lit it, finally looking around the lair of her colleague and enemy.
The room was a total mess, as the King had insinuated. The white curtains over the single sliver of window were torn, as were the hangings of Albel's huge and most likely expensive bed. What was left of the pillows was scattered to every corner of the room. The comforter had half-fallen out of the window, ice slowly crawling up it into the room. The chair to Albel's desk was splintered, and one leg had been forced into the wall. Ink pooled across the surface of the desk and slowly dripped onto the floor rhythmically. The closet had not been spared, as its torn and dirtied contents littered the floor.
Albel definitely knew how to throw a hissy fit.
Nel sighed, pulling the comforter from the window, trying to shake the ice from it. As she moved to set it on the bed, she noticed the splatters of blood on the sheets. Using the pin to start the rip, Nel tore around the dark red liquid, rolling it up and sticking it in her shoe with the tool. Continuing her search, Nel noticed and empty photo frame on the bedside table, as well as a rectangle on the wall that was much less faded than the rest.
'Must have been where Albel hung his map…' Nel thought, 'so he MUST be alive! He took it with him!'
All of a sudden, a gust of freezing air blew through the unprotected window and hit Nel's back, causing her to straighten up and shudder, the little hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. The candle dropped and rolled onto the thick carpet. Not losing a moment, Nel stomped it out to prevent a fire. In the cold silence, Nel looked around the room again, her eyes more accustomed to the dark. It was a mess, true, but she could tell that when clean, Albel's room contained nothing but necessities. It was strange—he was captain of the Black Brigade, son of Glou Nox, and one of those most respected by the King. He could afford anything he wanted. Yet, the nice furniture was all there was… there was nothing of Albel's but his clothes and equipment, all stuffed in the closet, and a couple of books laying on the desk.
Nel pulled the cold comforter around herself, hoping it would warm up with her body heat and protect her from the wind. She wandered towards the desk, letting one of her hands graze one of the books' surface. Bringing them close to her face, Nel read each of the titles in turn; The Art of the Blade, A History of Conflict: Greeton and Gaitte,Harnessing Dreams: a Guide to Resolving the Unconscious, andThe Year of Red.
The last two titles took Nel aback. She knew Albel's nightmares were bad, had heard him scream and writhe in his sleep on their journey. Even as his enemy, Nel could never help but comfort him when it began, either by finding an excuse to wake him or speaking to him carefully and stroking his hair. Of course, she never let anyone catch her, and it's not like she cared of Albel or whatever the hell he was dreaming about. Nel just had a big heart, and it pained her to see another human in so much pain. And he had been her comrade, after all. They fought side by side, despite their different countries, upbringings, morals.
'See? No need for me to be embarrassed… it means nothing…' she repeated like a mantra in her head.
It was the last title that surprised Nel the most. The Year of Red was a book she herself had read as a teenager. It was a fantastical, romantic story—something Nel would have thought to disgust Albel—about a boy and girl separated in their youth who try to find each other again in a war-torn country. Details of the plot came flooding back to the young woman, as she smiled down at the dirty, worn cover. Opening it, Nel noticed it belonged to the library… well, ONCE it had. It had been checked out nearly ten years ago, and by the looks of it, never returned. Now that sounded more like the Albel she knew—stealing books from libraries. As she read through the first page of the story, Nel was hit by a wave of nostalgia…
The young boy looked nervously up at his companion, asking sheepishly once again, "will you stay with me… forever?" The little girl smiled back toothily, taking his hands in hers. "Of course, silly! You never had to ask!"
How were they to know what would happen? They could not know that their city of Alabaster would be attacked, that they would be separated and flung to different ends of the world. But for that summer evening, with the sun blazing orange on the horizon, the fantasies of their childhood would live, if only for one day.
Nel stopped reading. 'This story is even cornier than I remembered!' she could not help but think, 'And Albel read this…? Not only that, but liked it enough to steal it for ten years from the library?!' She skipped to a random page in the middle.
"I have to see him!" Amber cried indignantly. "You don't understand! He's all I've ever had, and I know I'm all he's ever had!"
The jailer laughed bitterly. "You haven't seen him in eight years, since you were a prepubescent child! How do you know he even remembers you?!"
Amber shivered with anger, with uncertainty. She didn't know, and she feared the answer. She was scared of seeing Kigan again, scared that he didn't return her feelings. Maybe he didn't even remember her, she could never know. All the same, something in her was screaming out for him.
Amber spoke quietly, quivering, "He will. I know he will, because… I can feel him in my heart. We are connected, and even a big, frightening jailer like you won't stand in my way! I made it here through war, through disease, through death just to be with him again, and I refuse to stop now!"
The jailer blinked at her for a few moments. Then, as if by some miracle, he sighed and stepped aside. As Amber bounded through the gate, the jailer turned and said weakly, "I wish… I had been as strong as you. I hope you find what you're looking for." Turning, Amber smiled, "It's never too late to follow your heart… I hope you find it too!"
With that, she turned, running to cell number 18, just as Mr. Ashley's letter had said.
As a teenager training to serve the Queen, she had particularly liked the book. She and Clair had always traded off who got to read, though Nel would always find ways to read when Clair wasn't around. She would stay up late under her covers, a candle by her side, to read. Her superiors would always scold her for coming to training so tired. When Adray had found the candle under the sheet with her, he put his foot down to prevent Nel's reading obsession from burning down the house.
As an adult looking back, Nel didn't understand how she could have ever liked something like The Year of Red, with its cheesy plot and simple writing structure. More unbelievable was Nox's apparent obsession… Nel would now have to reevaluate everything she thought about the man. On any other day, she would have run to Cliff to share the news and to form a plan to blackmail the Airyglyph Captain, but today…
Nel came back to earth with a crash.
Today the world thought Albel was dead… that he had killed himself. No one but Nel seemed to question it—to think that Albel was incapable of suicide. He would not… Nel knew with all her being. He was weak, full of self-loathing, and alone, but…
Alone. Nel sat on the floor, leaning against the bedpost and gathering the comforter around her even more. She sniffed in the cold air. He really had been alone, as no one seemed to know him well enough to be certain he would not kill himself. Except Nel… she sniffed again. It was ironic that she was the only one who seemed to know him.
Maybe it could have been no one but Nel… maybe she was the only who could ever begin to understand him… as she had told him once, they were similar in many ways… though opposites in others. They both grew up in and lived with war, both chose to risk their lives for their countries. They had both lost their fathers—the most important figures in their lives. They…
Mid-thought, Nel bobbed off to sleep, leaning against Albel's bed in his comforter. Her thoughts sank into dreams of shifting awareness, dreams of the navy blue sea beneath the cliffs…
He ran through the twisting passages, escaping through the caverns. When he fell, which he often did, he continued to move as quickly as he could, whether by crawling or clawing away. He never looked back, for fear of catching a glance of that from which he ran. Winding a sharp corner, the man backed against the damp dirt wall, breathing in gasps. He could not hear the thing that was following him—the monster. Of course, he wouldn't hear it if it were coming. As he caught his breath, he wondered why he was not gone from his body yet… That beast could have done whatever it wanted to him.
The man breathed hard. It was letting him get away—it took pity on him. Disgusting. He was disgusting in his present, animalistic state. He should have let it destroy him… at least he would die fighting instead of starving in some back passage beneath the ground. After all, it's not like anyone would come to look for him. He had to do this himself.
Albel had no weapons, no arm, not even another set of clothes. His shirt was gone, ripped off in the struggle, one of his hair wraps was unraveling, and he was sopping wet. His shoes were also gone—he had taken them off to keep them from sinking him further—and the feet of his stockings has subsequently worn through and broken due to Albel's rough escape. His right arm—his only arm, at this point—still retained its shoulder amour, luckily, though the leather straps holding it on around his chest were now visible thanks to his lack of shirt. His right hand glove was severely ripped, but stayed on save for the pieces that hung from his arm. More serious than that, his ankle was seriously twisted from the drop. As best he could with one arm, Albel ripped off the bottom of his sarong and tied it around the ankle as well as his stub of a left arm.
He sighed and stood, walking with much less urgency on through the tunnels. He reached for the sopping wet paper he had stuck under a band around his upper right leg, hidden by his sarong. Both the map and photograph were still there, though almost coming apart now. Albel sighed and unfolded the map carefully and planning out his next move as he walked, muttering "maggots" under his breathe.
a/n: YAY! I'M WRITING AGAIN! As always, there's no guarantee as to when I'll update… sorry… I know I suck… but this IS an ALNEL, so you'll at least know I won't lose interest. I'm hoping to go a lot of places in this story, and I hope you guys will help me with it! Constructive criticism helps me so much, as I'll be the first to admit I'm not a talented writer, and those reviews really motivate me to continue and, when I procrastinate REALLY bad, remind me that my story even exists and that people are waiting for it (yes, LotB reviewers, that's you). Also, THERE NEEDS TO BE MORE ALNEL, SO GET TO IT PEOPLE! FIGHT AGAINST THE WAVES OF ALBELXFAYT!!!! GRAAAAR!! No I'm not partial at ALL, what are you talking about?! HA… ha… ha…?