1.1 Eternal Hope

1.1.1 Chapter 7

Slowly, he opened his eyes. It was bright. And clean. He could smell the disinfectanct in the room. Maybe it was him. He didn't know.

He blinked.

The entire room was much too bright and clean to be any planet building.

He frowned as he stared around.

The images around him were rather fuzzy, but after a while, he could see a blond head and a purple head and a brown head slowly coming into focus.

He squinted at the faces, trying to figure out who they were.

Slowly, his vision cleared and his mind started to function.

He was on med deck. On a bed. And beside him were Beka, Dylan and Trance.

Harper could see Rev walking into the room and pausing at the foot of his bed, staring down at him, concern in his eyes.

Trance was walking around the room, a flexi in one hand and the other hand nimbly adjusting the hundreds of tubes which seemed to be attached to his badly beaten body.

He looked up at Beka and Dylan who were sitting on chairs beside him.

Both of their faces were heavy and tired looking. By the looks of it, neither of them had had much sleep for a while.

Harper frowned. Why wouldn't they have slept? Because of him? Impossible. They despised him now. They hated him. They wouldn't care.

Suddenly, he completely woke up. His eyes widened.

He was on the Andromeda. He blinked, praying that this wasn't just a dream.

But it had to be. How else would he have gotten onto the Andromeda unless this were a dream?

No, no, no. The last time he had been conscious was when he had been tossed back into the cell, his back and arm burning so badly that his entire mind was exploding from the pain.

How the hell did he wind up on med deck? What the hell happened?

He tried to say something, but all that came out was a tiny groan.

Immediately, three pairs of eyes snapped up and stared at him.

"Harper?" Trance asked, leaning closer to him.

He blinked a few times to clear his vision a little more.

"Hey there, purpleness. How ya doin?" he said, his voice sounding raspy and the end of his sentence being lost in a spasm of coughs.

Trance's face broke into a brilliant smile. "You're alive!"

Harper gave her a small grin. "Yup. Appears that way."

Beka was staring at him, tears of relief brimming her eyes. Harper looked at her. "Hey boss. Nice to see you. Now, those can't be tears in those baby blues I see, huh? The last time I saw you cry was when you rammed the Maru into those two vessels and nearly totalled her."

Beka bit her lip, laughing and nearly crying at the same time. "Oh, shut up, Seamus Harper."

Harper looked down at Dylan. "Hey there, Dylan. Looks like you won't have to worry about finding a new engineer. You can get that off your to-do- list."

Dylan laughed. "I'm very glad to have you back, Mr.Harper. Truly, I am."

He glanced down to the foot of his bed where Rev was. "Hey, Rev! It's good to see you." He shook his head. "Man, never thought I'd say that." He said, grinning at the Magog. Rev chuckled and gave him a small bow.

Harper looked around at the circle of smiling, relieved faces.

"Okay, I'm sorry if I'm gonna ruin the whole 'we're so glad you're alive, Harper' thing, and not that I don't love it, but I'm itching to know how the hell I got here. Correct me if I'm wrong but the last time I was conscious, I was lying in some hell hole with hundreds of other people, rotting away, and now I'm on med deck. Somebody please fill me in."

Trance turned around and started filling some of the empty bags hanging above Harper's head. She didn't want to remember the sight of Harper being carried onto the deck in Tyr's arms, leaving a trail of blood on the floor below him, his entire body covered in blood and so many cuts and lashes that Trance doubted he was even alive. His pants had been torn, his blond hair had been covered in dirt and blood and three deep cuts sliced through his cheek, around which, his pale skin was starting to swell up and darken. Tyr had silently and incredibly gently lain the younger man's small, battered body onto the bed and had advised her to hurry for he didn't think he had much time left.

Beka glanced down at the floor and bit her lip. She didn't want to remember everything that she had been through in the past few days.

But she had to. For Harper. He had a right to know. She took a deep breath.

"A few hours after you left, I couldn't stand just sitting around and not knowing what was going on down there, so I send out a tracking signal for the Maru. Once we found the Maru, we tracked down the prison which was nearby. We had guessed that you were in there, so Rommie opened up a communications port with one of the guards and we asked how we could get you out of there. He said that anybody who wasn't picked up within three days of their punishment would be sent off to a Magog base nearby where they would be kept for consumption." Beka shuddered, remembering how her skin had crawled at the matter of fact way the guard had said that.

Harper simply shrugged and nodded. "Much better solution than letting hundreds of bodies rot in the prison. Makes too much of a stench." He said, voice sounding as matter of fact as the guards had.

Beka tried not to appear appalled at what he had said. She doubted that he had ever heard of such things as funerals or respecting the dead. To him, the dead were just things that took up room and were in the way.

"Anyway, so a day after you left, Tyr, Dylan and I took a pod down to the station and rammed our way through that throng out there until we were in. Then we walked down the corridor with a guard who stopped at your cell, unlocked it and then pointed at you." Beka swallowed hard. She was trying to push aside the memory of seeing Harper's bloody, beaten body lying unconscious on the cold cement floor of the cell. Blood was running across the floor from where he lay, but in the dim light, Beka couldn't tell if it was his or someone else's. She looked around at the dozen other half dead bodies lying sprawled around the cell, some muttering to themselves and some just staring blankly around. She tried not to stare at the pile of corpses which lay in the corner of the cell.

Good God, how she hated planets. Especially Nietzschean occupied ones. How anybody could survive in this kind of hell hole, she didn't know. But the person lying at her feet, half beaten to death, blood running from his lips, his arm so badly burnt that the skin was black and so mangled that Beka thought it didn't belong to him, was a person who had spent his entire life on planets such as these.

And he had survived. Somehow, some way, he had survived.

Seeing him lying on the cold, cement floor like that, beaten nearly to death, rage filled Beka and she was about to turn around and smash the guards face in. How the hell did anybody—anybody—think that they had the right to treat another human being like that? She whipped around, her hands clenched in fists, but Tyr had grabbed her arm and with one look had warned her not to say or do anything. Still shaking in rage and the slight feelings of guilt which had started to seep in, she turned away from the guard and watched as Tyr walked over to Harper, stepping over the many other bodies which lay in the way.

"So then Tyr picked you up and carried you out and we all fought our way through the throng again, Dylan and me throwing people out of the way and Tyr carrying you. Then we got back to the Maru and got the pod and flew back here. As soon as Tyr put you on that bed, Trance started fixing you up."

"The cuts are healing nicely, although some of the scars will be there for the rest of your life, but I think you knew that. The cuts on your cheek and the swelling will all soon be gone, and your arm is healing nicely too. The only real marks left there are the old tattoo and the—new one." Trance said gently, not looking at him but continuing her work.

Harper had known all of this before Trance had even opened her mouth. Too many times had he watched his own body nursing itself back to health not to know what would mend and what wouldn't.

"How long have I been asleep for?" he asked.

Dylan glanced up. "Three days."

Harper raised his eyebrows. Three days.

Beka was staring at the floor. She closed her eyes. Those three days had been hell.

Guilt and sorrow had torn her apart as she sat next to Harper's bed side, wanting to talk to him and coax him out of his delirium, but never finding the right words.

She had abandoned him.

Right when he had needed her most, she had abandoned her.

She had broken the one real promise he had ever made her make. Years ago, when she had first picked him up on Galatia, he had made her promise him never to leave him. No matter what happened. Beka hadn't understood at the time how serious the promise was, but now she did. She had sworn to always be there for him, and she had deserted him. Not only had she abandoned a crew member, which she had always sworn never to do, but she had abandoned a friend. A friend whom she had sworn never to leave.

New tears brimmed her eyes as she glanced up at the frail, thin body lying stretched out on the bed infront of her.

Harper looked at her and smiled.

God, that smile. That smile. Not the cocky grin, but that smile. That gentle, understanding smile that was much older than his years.

"I'm sorry, Seamus. I'm sorry." She whispered.

He reached out and gently squeezed her hand, hiding the grimace of pain which threatened to flicker across his face.

"It's okay, boss. You had every right to be pissed off at me. After all, it bites pretty badly when you find out your employee ain't the angel you thought he was. So I'm sorry too. I should have told you. Told you years ago. So, it's okay. Besides, you had no way of knowing what they would do to me. I knew, but I wanted to spare you that."

She smiled at him, wondering for the millionth time in her life how a person like Seamus Harper could exist. How somebody could have lead such a tormenting, pain filled life and still have such understanding and gentleness. And a sense of humor on top of it.

She glanced down at the floor and wryly shook her head.

And she had thought she was tough. She looked down at the young, blond engineer lying on the bed, the sheets underneath him still bloody from the numerous cuts across his back and arms, his smile still brilliantly shining on his face and his blue eyes sparkling.

* * *

Two days later, Harper declared that he would go absolutely insane if he would have to sit in bed for another minute.

He had barely been able to sleep, not only because the throbbing pain which constantly coursed up and down his body and which Trance couldn't, no matter what she tried, stop, but also because of the nightmares which were haunting his sleep.

He'd wake up screaming in the middle of the night, his eyes filled with panic and his shirt soaked with sweat and he could only be calmed down after Beka or Dylan had come in and calmly talked to him until he remembered where he was.

So he didn't sleep. He entertained himself in other ways.

He had Trance bring up some of his favourite toys from engineering and readjusted, rearranged and remade all of them. He played around with Rommie's main data base, turning her hair into brilliant shades of green and maroon until the avatar had come marching into the room and had threatened to make the temperature in the room drop to 20 degrees below zero if he didn't stop playing with her hair.

Two days after Harper had woken up, Dylan came marching onto the med deck, striding across the floor until he was standing inches away from the bed on which Harper was lying. His entire bed was covered in techno gadgets, half of which, Dylan couldn't even identify.

He was greeted with a cocky grin.

"Hey there, Dylan."

"Don't hey there, Dylan, me, Mr.Harper. You want to explain to me what the hell you're doing?"

Harper grinned up at him and pressed a button which elevated his head rest a little more.

"What seems to be the problem?"

"You know what the problem is!"

Harper continued grinning. "Why don't you explain it to me?"

"I'm down in Command, trying to install the new boosters into Rommie's system, when I turn around and ask the nanoboots to hand them to me. Suddenly, all of them start throwing the boosters around the room, playing some kind of stupid game where I'm in the middle and they continually throw them over my head—"

"Piggy in the middle. It's an earth game. No wonder you never heard of it."

Dylan dismissed the remark with a wave of his hand. "So I chase them all over the room, running after them as they throw the stupid things around. And then, just as I grab one of the boosters, the nanoboots grab me and start waltzing around the room with me. For half an hour. For half an hour, Mr.Harper. Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to waltz with robots for half an hour?"

Harper looked up at him. "Dylan, I'm sorry, okay? I'm just bored to death up here. There's nothing for me to do here."

Dylan's bad mood evaporated as he looked down at him.

"Okay, Harper. Trance is going to kill me, but fine, I'm going to dismiss you from medical. You're healthy enough. Only question is, can you walk?"

Harper's smile evaporated. "I don't know."

"Well, lets find out." Dylan quickly wrapped a blanket around Harper (he didn't want the damned idiot to catch a cold the second he was out of bed. With the man's immune system, he'd probably kneel over and die tomorrow.) and the gently helped him stand up.

Harper clenched his teeth as the still sensitive skin on his back stretched slightly. But it wasn't so bad.

He held the blanket tightly around himself and carefully placed down one foot and then the other until he was standing up straight.

He swayed on his feet for a moment and Dylan grabbed him around the shoulders.

Slowly, they shuffled out of medical.

As they walked, Dylan couldn't help but feel a small hint of anger simmering inside of him.

"I'm going to kill the beasts who did this to you, Harper. One day. I swear." He said as they slowly struggled down the hallway.

Harper smiled through his clenched teeth. A thin film of sweat was forming on his forehead. He slowly shook his head.

"Won't do any good, Dylan." He gasped out. "Like Rev said, revenge is just a huge circle. Never stops. Never solves anything."

Dylan stole a quick glance at him, but didn't respond.

They continued shuffling down the hallway.

* * *

Harper stood alone in his quarters, two weeks after his punishment. His back was healing up nicely, although he did have to go to medical once a day to swallow IB's and get disinfected. So far, not one single cut had gotten infected. The cuts on his cheeks were just scabs now and the bruising and swelling were completely gone.

He stood in front of a mirror, staring at himself.

The one part of him that he hadn't taken a look at was his arm.

Slowly and gingerly, he rolled up his right shirt sleeve. Trance had told him that the swelling and burning had faded, so all that was left now was whatever they had burned over the tattoo.

Staring into the mirror, his face blank, he turned his arm to face the mirror.

A huge, thick black circle had been burned around the three small stars, and over top of the circle, slashing through the little triangle the stars had made, was a large X.

He stared into the mirror, feeling completely numb.

And as he stared harder and harder at his arm, his vision blurred and he couldn't see the stars anymore.

Only those thick, black slashes, burned into his arm.

* * *

Hanging onto Beka's arm, Harper slowly shuffled down the ramp in command. Tyr, who was sitting in the piloting chair, glanced up and hopped off as he saw him coming.

Without a word, Tyr gently picked him up and put him into the chair. He pretended not to see the grimace of pain flicker across his face as his still sensitive back made contact with the back of the chair.

Beka, however, did see and she immediately ripped off the sweater she had tied around her waist and put it behind his back.

Harper grinned up at all of them. "Okay, now that I'm nearly pampered to death and had to drag my ass all the way over here, would somebody please tell me what I'm doing here?"

Dylan walked over to him and stood in front of him.

"A few days ago, we got a message saying that somebody being held in a prison on earth wanted to contact you. It was their last request."

Harper frowned. "What do you mean'last request'?"

Dylan looked him straight in the eyes. "Last request before their deaths, I mean. It was this person's last wish in life to talk to you."

Harper's eyes drifted down to the floor, lost in thought. Who the hell would want to spend the last moments of their life talking to him? Besides, who the hell did he know who was going to die? Everybody he knew was already dead. His thoughts were interupted as a coughing fit seized his body and he nearly fell out of the chair.

Beka, who was punching some controls beside her, immediately reached over with her other hand and held him back.

After the coughing was over, he weakly nodded his head at Dylan. "Okay. Let's hear it." He rasped.

"Any idea who it might be?" Beka asked, not looking up from the controls.

Harper shook his head, staring at the screen.

"Okay, the transmission is coming through now." Rev said.

Slowly, an image flickered onto the screen. Harper squinted, trying to make out the dimly lit image.

From the cold, dark bricks lining the walls and the chains hanging from the ceiling, he could tell it was a jail cell. His skin crawled. Who did he know who was in jail?

His eyes scanned around the dark cell until he finally saw a figure sitting in the corner, one knee pulled up to his chest and the other leg stretched out. There were thick chains around both his ankles and around his thin wrists which poked out of the thin, torn shirt.

His pants were badly torn too and his shirt was covered in filth and blood. He had no shoes or socks on his feet which were so dirty that Harper could tell he had been walking around barefoot for quite a while.

Harper still had no idea who the person was, until the figure coughed and spat out a mouthful of blood and slowly raised his head.

Despite the dirt, despite the torn clothes, despite the tired and weary look on his face, despite the chains hanging around his wrists and ankles and despite the dim lighting in the cell, Harper immediately recognized the black hair and the pale blue eyes which looked at him.

"Pez?" He whispered, not daring to believe what he was seeing.

The person smiled, a thin, ghostly smile of a person was more dead than alive.

"Shay?" His voice was raspy and tired, but Harper still recognized it.

A wild joy filled him as he finally recognized his best friend.

"Pez!" he cried out, a smile lighting up his face. He was about to jump up and run to his friend, but just then, he remembered that thousands of miles, even a few solar systems seperated them.

He calmed down, but the smile on his face wouldn't evaporate.

"Pez, my God. I thought you were dead by now."

Pez laughed. His laughter ended in a coughing fit which rattled the chains on his wrists, but it was still his laughter.

"What a way to greet an old friend, Seamus."

Harper grinned back. "My God. I ain't meaning to be rude, but how the hell did you make it this far alive?"

Pez grinned. "Wasn't easy. Wasn't easy, I'll tell you that." He choked out, trying to keep his coughs down.

So, slowly and sometimes pausing to take a breath or to cough, Pez told him what his life had been like for the past three years.

Most of them had been spent preparing for the revolution, going all around and spreading the word and organizing for more weapons. He had gone to Sib who had gladly loaned him the use of one of his runners to fly him around everywhere. Three months after Harper had left, a Magog raid had decended upon the city where they had lived. Pez hadn't been there at the time, but when he got home, he said there was barely anything left. Never mind anyone.

"Even Charlie? And Mindy? And Sib? And Curly?" Harper asked.

Pez gave him a look and coughed and continued on with his story. There was no reason to respond. Harper had known the answer before he had asked.

So he had moved onto another city and continued his work there. Right before the revolution was going to be started, him and the other two leaders went into hiding.

After the 'big score' was crushed in two days by the Nietzscheans, it took them only a week to find all three leaders. They had been thrown into prison and kept there for weeks already. Being tortured, starved, ridiculed, humiliated, anything which would satisfy the Nietzscheans rages over what had happened.

Harper glanced up at his friend. "What are they gonna do with you at the end?"

Pez smiled. A bitter, hard smile.

Beka immediately recognized that smile. That was Harper's smile. That old smile that was much too old for both of their young faces.

"You do know that this is my last request, don't you?" he said.

Harper didn't smile back. He knew it would come. He just didn't want it to. He took a deep breath. He'd have to accept it sometime or another. He blinked. He just didn't want to right now. No. Right now, he wanted to pretend that this was just him and Pez, sitting on their old mattress, talking about life.

"Did they hurt you bad, Shay?" Pez asked, frowning down at his friend. He had seen the stiff way he was sitting and the slight grimace of pain everytime he moved an inch.

Harper shook his head. "Not too bad. Just the usual." He shrugged.

"Sure, sure, Mr.Tough Guy." Pez said, trying to laugh, but only managing to choke out a cough.

Both of them were silent for a moment, until Pez looked up at him.

"Hey, Shay?"

"Yeah?"

"You don't still feel guilty do ya?"

Harper froze, not knowing how to answer the question. Such a simple question, yet he couldn't answer it.

"Cause, you know, Shay, you don't have to. I know how you feel. Same way I feel. We got hundreds of people into the thing, painted smiles on our faces and made them all believe that we had a chance. Then we both just turned and ran. It don't make a difference that you ran earlier than me, it just matters that we both ran away and threw all the others to the Nietzscheans without a backwards glance." Pez coughed. "And I felt as guilty as hell, Shay. I felt damn guilty. And hypocritical too."

Harper nodded. That's exactly the same way he had been feeling for the past three years.

"But, Shay, you know what I realized? Both of us might have run, and neither of us might have done the actual fighting, but we both got punished, didn't we? Even though we didn't run with the rest, we still took the fall with the rest. And that's worth tons more than going there and flinging a few rocks with the rest of the crowd. Don't feel guilty, Seamus. We've both paid up."

Harper blinked back the tears which had welled up in his eyes. It was true. They had both abandoned all the people who had trusted them with their own lives, but at the end, they hadn't abandoned them. When it counted, they hadn't abandoned them.

"Thanks, Pez." He whispered, looking at his best friend through his tears.

Pez gave him a grin. "Nothing you wouldn't have done for me."

Harper laughed, but his laughter ended up in near sobs when he heard those words. Some things never changed.

He blinked a few times, trying to get a hold of himself, and then looked up at Pez. Something had just occurred to him.

"Well, Pez. You lost the big score, but at least you still got your revenge, didn't ya? You still won."

Pez slowly shook his head. "No, Shay. I thought I did. I really thought I had won. The day the revolution started, I thought, yeah, this was my payback. But then, when the numbers came in two days later that not only we'd lost, but that 50 million of our own had died," he shook his head as painfilled tears filled his eyes. "No, that wasn't a victory. I hadn't won, Shay. You don't win by killing millions of your own people. No. The only person who really won here is you, Shay."

Harper frowned. "Me? Why me? I'm the coward who ran away in the first place."

Pez shook his head, tears slowly running down his tired face. "No, Shay. You're not a coward. You just ran away from something that you knew was doomed in the first place. You ran away and got your revenge somewhere else. You won, Shay. I mean, look at you. Working on a High Guard starship, having a good, legal job, having friends around you who care about you, and being able to truly say you're on the same level as the Nietzscheans. You ain't a kludge anymore, Shay. That's why you won. You won."

Harper couldn't stop the tears that were pouring down his face. He had won, and he was going to live, but Pez, who had fought for that revenge his entire life, wasn't going to live. It was so damned unfair.

"It ain't fair, Pez."

Pez nodded, understanding what he was talking about. "Life ain't fair, Shay. You out of all people should know that. I never asked for this, but then again, neither did you. We take whatever we're given and we make the best out of it. I'm gonna die tomorrow—"

Harper squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the pain which had erupted within him to subside.

"But that don't mean that I'm done fighting."

Harper stared at him through tear filled eyes. "Don't be stupid, Pez. You can't do nothing when you're dead."

"Shay, I can't do nothing, that's for sure. But when I die tomorrow, people are gonna remember me. You're gonna remember me. And people are gonna remember why I died. They're gonna remember what I fought for. And one day, not now and not anytime soon, but one day, people are gonna try and do what I tried to do. Maybe, the big score will work then, maybe it won't. But at least, they'll have tried. You see, that's what my death will do. It'll be a reminder for people everywhere to keep on fighting."

Harper was sobbing now, not caring anymore.

"But, Shay, I don't know if anybody is really gonna care enough right now to remember why I'm gonna die. It won't matter for a few more years. People are gonna be too scared to remember. But when they're not too scared, they'll need someone to remind them. That's what I need you to do for me, Shay. To remind the people. To remind them of me. To remind them why I died. Cause you're the only one whose really gonna remember." Pez tried to smile through his tears. "Will you do that for me, Shay? Will you make people remember?"

Harper nodded, barely able to talk as he sobbed. This was his best friends last wish. His dying wish. To be remembered.

"Mera kurita." He choked out. "Mera kurita." (I promise.)

Pez smiled. "Feria." He whispered through his tears. (Thank you.)

Dylan gently leaned over and told him that the transmission was going to end any minute.

Harper gripped the arm rests of his chair and pushed himself up. Sobbing, his vision blurred through his tears, he struggled up, ignoring the aching pain in his back.

He shuffled forward until he was standing in front of the screen, inches away from Pez.

"Feria." Pez whispered again, looking up at his friend, his eyes filled with grateful tears.

Harper tried to shrug. "Nothing you wouldn't—" his voice broke and he nearly collapsed. "Nothing you wouldn't—have done—for me." He breathed out.

He wanted to scream, wanted to fight, wanted to rip every Nietzscheans throat out, wanted to fly to earth and kidnap Pez. Wanted anything except to have his best friend die the next morning. But he knew there was nothing he could do. There was nothing he could do.

"Mera kurita." He whispered. "Mera kurita." He sobbed harder, hardly able to get the words out.

He numbly lifted his hand up to the screen.

Pez struggled to stand up, using the wall to try and raise his battered body until he was standing right in front of him.

Staring at the messy, black hair and the fading pale blue eyes, Harper couldn't believe how much time had passed since Pez had pulled him behind that piece of wood, out of the night patrols way and they had shared that beer.

Nearly ten years ago. Ten years.

And now, their friendship would end.

No. Their friendship wouldn't end. Harper knew, as well as Pez did, that his spirit would life on forever within him. And that promise he had made to him, that promise would now seal Pez's spirit within every heart of every human being on earth or any other Nietzschean occupied planet. Harper would make sure of that.

"Mera kurita." He whispered again.

Then, slowly, his mind barely aware of what he was doing, his fingers slowly formed into the ancient signal. He stared at his hand, not being able to remember the last time he had made the signal with his hand.

Oh yes, he did remember. The night he had said good bye to Pez. Well, now he had to say good bye to Pez again. But this time, forever.

Pez slowly made the signal too and held his shaking hand up to the screen. Lightly, they touched their fingers together in the secret handshake. Although millions of miles seperated them, Harper swore he could feel the heat of his friends fingers pressed against his own.

Tears poured down both their faces as they both struggled to remain standing. They stared at each other, a thousand memories racing through their minds.

Harper opened his mouth.

"Crystallia Roxia." He whispered, choking the words out through his tears.

Pez smiled. "Crystallia Roxia." He whispered back, tears flowing down his pale face.

They stood there, frozen in time, staring at each other, their fingers touching.

Pez's image started flickering as the transmission was slowly cut.

Harper's other hand tried to grab the screen, grab the image, grab Pez.

"No." he sobbed, his hand sliding down the screen. Slowly, the screen went blank and was replaced by the outside view of millions of stars in the empty, black space surrounding the ship.

"No!" Harper sobbed, sliding down onto the floor, not caring over who heard him, not caring about his aching back.

He sat on the floor, leaning against a cold metal panel, sobbing his heart out.

He pounded the floor with his fist, not noticing that, while one of his hands was in a tight fist, the other, his right hand, was still clenched together, with his two fingers forming a circle, and his other three fingers extended to the sky.

He didn't notice.

He just sat on the ground, oblivious to his surroundings, sobbing his heart out as pain threatened to choke him.

Once again, he was about to lose another person he cared about.

And once more, there was nothing he could do about it.

"Mera kurita." He sobbed, unaware of his friends crowding around him, trying to give him some comfort.

He didn't want their comfort. He didn't want anyone to tell him it would all be okay.

He just wanted this pain to stop. This suffocating pain.

"Mera kurita."

A few days later, Harper stood on the obs deck, staring out at the inky black sky sprinkled with thousands of sparkling stars. He leaned against the railing, lost in thought.

Three days earlier, news had reached them that the three leaders of Crystallia had been burnt at the stake in front of thousands of their grieving members.

The Nietzscheans had stated their reasons for this barbaric act as a simple, ironic statement. The leaders had burnt their members for years, now they were burning the leaders. A simple chain reaction.

Harper traced a few scratches on the metal railing. Somehow, he couldn't find it within himself to laugh.

He swallowed hard.

Somebody had also reported that just before the youngest leader had died, the young man had screamed out two words. The words had been lost in the crackling of the flames and the screams which had erupted from the throats of the other two, but Harper knew what the words had been.

Crystallia Roxia.

Harper knew that these would be Pez Madden's last words.

When Pez had nothing left, after he had lost everything, he had reached out and grasped the only thing he could still fight with. The only thing he could still hold onto.

Hope.

It was just like Daxus had said long ago.

When you have nothing left, when you are all alone, and when you feel that life is no longer worth living because you have nothing left, there is one thing which you do have. And that one thing is hope. As long as there is life, there is hope.

He smiled and looked down at his arm.

The ugly, black slashes completely covered the three stars, suffocating them. He could hardly see them. But it was then that the realized he didn't need to see them.

For, hope would always be with him. No matter what happened to him. No matter where he was and if he was all alone or if he had friends with him. No matter what anybody tried to do to him.

He would always have hope.

He would always have hope.

Crystallia Roxia.