In the dark cold of his dank basement laboratory, Folken Fanel, once in line to be King of Fanelia, now only a failed Zaibach sorcerer, sat and considered the equations once again. No, it was unfair and untrue to say that he had failed. He had seen through the idle plots and plans of his false savior, and now sought to correct the errors and avenge the deaths (avenge…or atone?) of which he was the cause.

The equations, though, as they often did during recent days when he constantly doubted himself, were not lining up.

He sighed and sat back in his chair, feeling the long, supple bones of his hidden wings flex against the high chair back. He was tired. All he longed to do was close his eyes and sleep, long and deeply and untroubled by dreams.

Bitterly chuckling, he forced his eyes open and back onto the long winding scrolls of his calculations. Plenty enough time for sleep when the mutations he had forced onto his own body took their toll. Just as Naria and Eria had aged dramatically before they died, so should he. Already his wings, harbingers of death, had turned pitch black.

Yes. Soon there would be more than enough time to rest. What truly mattered was finishing these calculations; the calculations that, hopefully, would see him into the very heart of Zaibach, where he could put an end to the mad ravings of the delusional lunatic whom he'd most faithfully served.

All this was a mess. Folken knew that he could never possibly create what he needed to create with the mere power of science alone. He needed the magic of the girl from the Mystic Moon. He needed Hitomi.

But she was gone. In what must have been just the pillar of light he wanted to create. Hadn't he told them? Such a feat was impossible by all the science that Zaibach justly declared itself master of.

Sighing once more, he threw down his quill. Idly, as his thoughts drifted, he let his eyes wander out the only window to rest on the two great satellites of the moons. What was she doing, now? Had she settled back into her own life, making excuses for her absence, and was she even now trying to forget all about them, embroiled in war?

Was she any different, in her own home? Or did she still seem to exude that quiet power, that sensibility and understanding to the people and situations around her?

Folken shook his head. Whatever that pendant was, he was sure that Hitomi had little to no understanding of how to use it. If it were a component of that destructive machine of Atlantis (and what other explanation could there be?) then she had no conscious thoughts of using it, of that he was certain. Hers was not a destructive nature. Nor a divisive one.

He was an observant man, especially in new situations, but he had seen this talent in her from the moment he had first learned of her existence. The random element…the puzzle piece that did not fit, because her expectations were different. She came from a world where war was not the natural order. Where death did not determine who survived and who did not. Where nature rarely exerted devastating lethal force.

At first, she had been amusing. Watching her, and her reactions, so different from what other people in his world would have portrayed, though it served no technical purpose, still gave him something other to puzzle besides the strategy of one-upmanship, the dread game of death and destruction.

She was the still little center around which the steady stream of characters swirled. In her absence, the pieces still soldiered on, but there was a coldness in her absence. Without her presence, her strange otherworldly innocence to protect and guard, they were entirely straight with each other. Fear moved in all of their hearts, because without her, they none of them could force themselves to be optimistic.

Though her presence might have been a distraction, Folken realized that she had been a distraction for all of them.

Without Hitomi, Allen's character was entirely revealed. Within a single evening, the man who had been determined to marry her suddenly found that he was not so interested as he had thought. Perhaps no one else saw, but Folken did.

Without Hitomi, Van's character was only too clear. He was leaning dangerously close to unthinking violence, furious that Zaibach (all his troubles now stemmed from one visible monster) had robbed him of everything. Brother, (Folken could not but consider this with a sharp stab of pain) birthright, country, home, and finally friend.

The list would go on. But Folken had done thinking.

They tried to patch up her absence, make it unnoticeable. But the hole left by her, though coldly and methodically dealt with, was still gaping and raw.

As for himself…well, he missed her too.

Quiet power…very accurate. She had the power of clear sight, though sometimes portrayed to others as simply being extremely naïve. In a way, she reminded him of Van, as a child. Another such gentle soul, questioning the death of any living creature. Why war? Why death? There simply were no good answers.

Hitomi was perhaps the only person to accept him. At first, even he had taken that for naïveté. He could be lying. He could have been a trap. But after their conversation, shadowed by the cool of the fountain and the light of the moon, he could see her reasoning. The simple question, 'why?'"

As he thought, he felt another tremor of pain shoot through his body. The tendrils of hurt had only become more and more frequent as the days went on. His bones felt fragile, his skin turned wan and paler even than usual.

In a way, that was a good thing. Death was really the only way he could truly atone for the enormity of his crimes. Besides his brother, really, there was nothing that Folken would regret leaving in this world.

Well, that was not strictly true.

He closed his eyes against the fleeting vision of a green-eyed girl in strange clothes, painfully awkward yet doing her best to help. No. It was good that his days were numbered. Still, somehow, he knew that Hitomi would be coming back. If for nothing else, he had seen her connection with Van.

And he had seen Van's connection with her.

It was ridiculous, to be stricken so young with the maudlin sentimentality of old age, but the longer he sat there, facing the equations that were so bound up with that girl, the more he became entangled in past regrets. What could he have done, had he known the truth? If he had chosen differently?

As if in a vision of Hitomi's, he saw himself, King of Fanelia, which was still lush and green, protected by the dragons and the mountains, blessed with rich soil and abundant water. He saw his brother, gentle and strong, learning to negotiate without violence, never having known the need for combat in the first place. That would be a world where Hitomi would not feel out of place…perhaps one that she could learn to love as much as her own.

But she would love it for Van's sake. Not for his.

Suddenly, Folken stood. Enough. Enough for tonight. He needed no pain to add to the burdens already laid on his heart. In recent years, he had never had much use for that particular muscle, but apparently it still registered sensation as acutely as ever.

As a bright beam of moonlight suddenly illuminated the circular (endlessly circular) equations on his desk, he turned upwards again, and sent a silent prayer that the absence of that one, gentle soul, that quiet still power, would not be the ruin of them all.

Though he knew that she was safe at last, he still prayed for her return.