Author's Note: This is a Christmas present for my good friend the original KeT, who has been my online pen pal for a little while now. You never know how much your advice means to someone, or how much getting a letter from you can make my day. If this is too insanely long, maybe it's because you're such an insanely awesome friend!

Disclaimer: I don't own the Storm Hawks.


Lark Cyclonis sighed, looking at the screen of her Crystal Online Mechanical Processing Unit, or what the kids were now calling a "COMPUter." Since she had taken over the Atmos (after all, it was only so long until those Sky Knight kid-brats ran out of luck) she had almost been…bored. Setting up a network connecting the entire Atmos had given her something to do in her free time, plus, although they didn't know it, she was able to regulate everything anyone typed and posted on the "web" (another teenage term—these children should have asked her, after all, she was the inventor, and she should get to name it.)

Just another way to regulate rebellion, which was becoming far to common. No one succeeded, but she just wished they could all stop trying. Didn't they see the beauties of peace, all of the amazing technologies she came up with when they weren't all trying to topple her empire.

She tapped a bar on the crystal keyboard, bringing up her email: CYberQueen. The base terra was, of course, Cyclonia.

The email system, as everyone with a COMPUter was given an email, worked like thus: they were allowed to choose their own "screename," then it was at their home . Her email was known to the public, as she was trying to present the image of an empress who actually cared about what her people said.

She scrolled down her inbox list—well over 1,000 unread messages—as her tired eyes fluttered closed. The subjects and abstracts all blurred together to her…

Buy Mary Sue's Crystals—they're perfect! Suited for your every… OMG masty cy u r so hot i m in luv w/ u n… Cyclonis you are a curse to the entire Atmos, how could you kill so many people for your own selfish… with the new tax law is that the citizens don't feel like they're getting enough… YOU BITCH YOU SHOULD GO THROW YOURSELF INTO THE WASTELAND AND BURN IN HELL… Thank you.

She rubbed her eyes.

Thank you.

Wonderingly, she checked the address.

christalglaive. She glaced at the terra: nordnet.

Strange, it wasn't a Cyclonian. She would expect a Cyclonian Talon to try sucking up to her, hoping for a pay raise or promotion, but a random civilian from Terra Nord? If she remembered her old geography lessons properly—which she always did—Terra Nord was a more civilized Terra near Terra Blizzaris, and the Absolute Zeroes had taken refuge there several times before she had taken over Terra Blizzaris, Terra Nord, and the rest of Atmos.

Against her better judgment, she opened it and began to read.

Master Cyclonis,

Or Cy. May I call you Cy? Your e-ddress is CYberQueen, so I think I'll take the risk of impertinence at such a casual greeting.

Dear Cy,

Wow. Now that I've finally begun, I don't really know what to say. Um, I doubt you're ever going to read this, because you must get thousands of messages every day, but I still just had to send it and hope.

First things first, I wanted to thank you. Ever since Cyclonia took over, life has been so much easier. Everyone works, and the people who work hard get paid well and the lazy people are not rewarded for their lack of work. That's the way life is supposed to be, and I think you set things right.

Also, the addition of Cyclonian technology to our terra has greatly improved our lifestyle. This 'internet' you have created—pure genius!

So I'm writing to say thank you, and let you know that you have one fan who doesn't want money, or favors, or promotion, who just really admires you for what you do.

~Chris

Yeah, that is my real name. My screename was supposed to be clever, because I like crystal science, but instead of 'crystal' I put 'christal'…okay, I'm going to stop embarrassing myself now…

Cyclonis stared, violet eyes wide with shock, at the computer screen. Someone actually cared enough to write to her? Someone wanted to compliment her, and didn't expect anything in return? Someone admired her for all her hard work?

Suddenly, she did something she had never done before—she hit the "Reply" button.

Chris,

Yes, you may call my Cy. It's not like I'm going to be able to stop you, and you seem nice—and respectful—enough otherwise that I don't really mind. This is not a formal correspondence, so I do not require you to address me formally.

I was actually quite surprised to receive your message, as most people are so busy complaining about me that they don't care about my new crystal technologies. I am quite honored that you think so highly of me. I'm also rather pleased that you bothered to use proper grammar; you have no idea how annoying it is to try to decode thing like "OMG" and "WTF" and "XD." I have figured out what the first two mean, but I still am clueless about "XD." Is it some obscure reference to Terra Xerxxes? I know the people of Xerxxes are famous for their sky dueling capabilities. Does it mean 'Xerxxes Duel'? I would assume so, but it makes no sense in the context I've seen it used in.

Well, I personally think you screename is quite witty. I'm glad that at least some people out there are interested in crystals! Really, crystals are our future, and if we ever wish to advance our technology, we must first understand the crystals. They are an art, and a science.

It's rather nice to have a fan. Actually, for the first time, I don't think I regret creating an email service. Thank YOU.

~Cy.

If you insist on calling me that, I suppose I shall have to sign my letters with it.

------

The next day, there was an uncharacteristic excitement in her as she woke up. What was it? She groggily rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, and then it hit her.

She hurried over to her COMPUter, wishing fervently that is wasn't some dream. Filtering through her inbox, the bleak reality hit her.

No, it wasn't a dream, and no, Chris hadn't written back to her.

Putting on her usual frown, she stalked out to breakfast.

There were all of her commanders: Dark Ace, Ravess, Snipe, Chicken Feather (who was now calling himself Commander Scratch-up Face again, although she would always think of him as the nickname Ravess had bestowed to him), the latter of whom she had finally, finally promoted. They were standing together, laughing, and she felt a twinge of jealousy. She didn't need friends, but that didn't mean she didn't want someone to understand her. The problem was, she held herself so aloof that she didn't have any peers—

The stupid message was getting to her again. She was an empress, she ruled the world, she owned the world, she didn't need anything more.

Dark Ace must have noticed her entering the room, because he called over to her, "Hey, Master!"

She whirled to glare at him. After all, she had appearances to keep up and everything.

"We were wondering if, you know, well, we think that the citizens of Terra Tropica are planning a rebellion, and we have to go check it out. You know, a week, undercover, Snipe, Ravess, Scratch-up, and me, make sure that there's no trouble."

Even without Ravess bursting out laughing, Cyclonis could tell something was up. "You want a vacation?" she replied, incredulous. "You know, you could just ask for one."

Dark Ace's eyes lit up like he was a three-year-old being given candy. "Are you serious!?!" he gaped.

Lark smiled genuinely. "Sure, just take me with. We all need a break. With the new internet, I can monitor my empire from anywhere, and I never did learn how to surf. I would like it very much if you could teach me."

Snipe and Scratch-up looked a bit uncertain, but Dark Ace's face broke into a wide, welcoming grin. "Pack up!" he smirked. "We leave within an hour."

-----

Cyclonis groaned as she looked at the screen of her COMPUter. She had not had a very good day.

First, Ravess had decided she needed a bathing suit, which the empress point-blank refused. The violinist then proceeded to splash her, getting all of her robes, her battle armor, and her cape wet, to demonstrate the various benefits of having a bathing suit. It didn't help that the magenta-haired woman was showing of her bikini the entire time. Getting into a bathing suit, with all her pale skin exposed to the harsh sun and ever harsher looks from boys (as Cyclonis had yet to understand the concept of lust) was one of the poor girl's worst nightmares.

Then, as she sat trying to dry off in the sun, Ravess decided to get help and enlist Dark Ace in the forcing-Cyclonis-to-wear-a-bathing-suit crusade. Dark Ace was nicer about it, showing her the full-body suits that serious surfers wear to stay warm, and she agreed to put it on.

However, the suit wasn't called heat-retaining for nothing. Out on the sand, she felt like she was baking.

It was at this time that Dark Ace had reminded her of her request to learn to surf. She acquiesced, getting on the board with him, and learned that although he made it look easy, surfing was not easy. By the fifth time they capsized, and water shot up her nose yet again, she was ready to quit. However, Dark Ace was laughing, and she couldn't show weakness in front of him.

What she didn't understand was why he insisted on staying on the same board as her. She was sure that he would be a good enough teacher from afar, and she was only dragging him down. She herself had witnessed him perform marvelous tricks on his board just earlier that morning.

She tried again. This time, when the waves tossed her around like she was in a washing machine, she landed on her ankle at a weird angle. She heard it crack.

As she bit her lip so hard that blood burst from the skin to stop from screaming in pain, Dark Ace scooped her up and carried her out of the water.

Oh, the humiliation, not to mention the awkwardness of being held so close by her top commander. Although she would never admit it—it would make her blush just to think about thinking about it—she sort of (who was she kidding, she totally) liked it.

When he placed her down on the sand, she held out one hand and summoned her staff, then examined the ankle in question. "Just a sprain, I can heal it," she said nonchalantly, straining to keep her voice in monotone. Heal it she did, as her crystals could do just about anything for her, but it would ache and pain her for weeks.

"I'm going home," she announced. "You four can stay here for a week or two. If there's a full-out rebellion or something, I'll call you. Otherwise, enjoy yourself while the vacation lasts." She left before they could tease her even more.

It was only back on Cyclonia, when she had settled down to her chambers to rest, did she realize how much she resembled a certain sea-creature that Snipe particularly like to eat: the lobster.

Sunburn. Her face, her hands, her neck, her feet—every part of her body that had not been covered by the bodysuit—was burn a dark, painful crimson.

Even crystals couldn't deal with sunburn that well, but she did have a cream for Solaris-Crystal burns, which she fetched from the cupboard and applied to herself in prodigious amounts.

It was in this mood that she heard back from her pen pal.

Hi Cy!

Wow! That rhymes! Heeheehee, I crack myself up!

-takes a deep breath-

Sorry, I'm just so excited that you actually wrote back to me! I need to calm down a bit if I'm actually going to reply.

I don't see what there is to complain about. Everything has been awesome, and peaceful, since Cyclonia took over. I mean, a couple people talk about rebelling, but no one takes them seriously. For once it feels like we're doing something productive on Nord instead of just wasting out lives away.

Lol (that's laugh out loud) "XD" doesn't stand for anything. It's a smiley face. The 'X' are the eyes, all squinted together, and the 'D' is a giant grin. '=P' is a face sticking its tongue out. You can also create faces such as this: ^__^ You should try it some time; it's fun to use emoticons and improper grammar sometimes, makes life a lot less formal! XD

So, what do Cyclonians do in their free time? Are you really busy ruling an empire, or do you answer letters like this one all the time, or what? I'm curious!

Thank you again for writing back to me. I'm incredibly honored and really grateful. Have a nice day!

~Chris

Cyclonis snorted. 'Have a nice day'? How about a nightmare of a day. She realized she needed someone to rant to, and began typing,

Chris,

You want to hear what Cyclonians do in their free time? Well, the stupid ones like me agree to go on trips to Terra Tropica…

------

"Cy? Are you okay?"

Cyclonis's head shot up. Who-what-where-when-why-how all shot through her mind. Slowly, as her head stopped spinning, she made sense of what had happened. She had written a really long letter back to Chris, and sent it, then…

She must have fallen asleep at her computer.

Groggily, she looked up. Dark Ace had one hand on her shoulder, and had been shaking her with an expression of intense worry on his face. She shrugged his hand off.

"I'm fine," she insisted irately, then thought of something. "Hey, shouldn't you be back on the beach enjoying yourself?"

Dark Ace smiled. "I was worried about you, all cooped up in the palace, bored without us to toss around with your crystals, so I thought I'd stay behind with you and, you know, keep you company."

Cyclonis raised one eyebrow. "No ulterior motive?"

Dark Ace just laughed.

------

Dear Chris,

I kissed a boy for the first time today.

Gosh, I must sound so immature, getting all worked up about it, but it is important to me. I mean, we've conquered the Atmos, now I'm allowed to think about these things, right?

Dark Ace, after begging me for a vacation, stayed home in Cyclonia with me. At first I was surprised, but he was actually pretty nice about things. He said he thought it was his fault I had hurt myself, and he wanted to make it up to me. He also insisted on carrying me around because he didn't want to strain my ankle any more.

Well, I wasn't particularly happy about it, but really, when does one get the chance to be carried around by their favorite commander? I made him give me a ride to my crystal laboratory, then settled down to work a bit. He just sat there and watched me, it was really creepy.

I wasn't getting much done, and I felt bad for keeping him from his own training, so I told him he could leave. He grinned and didn't move. I shot back that if he wanted to be lazy and not train, fine, but I was going to the hanger bay to play around on a skimmer and if he wanted to carry me then he'd have to come along too. At this point, he started laughing out loud (do you say LOLing? Or LingOL?).

We both ended up on his skimmer, soaring through the red Cyclonian sky, and he asked, "Do you trust me?"

I had to think for a minute. Did I really trust anyone? If there was any human being who I respected, who had protected my life with his own, who I knew would never betray me, it was him. Still, there was nervousness in my voice when I finally forced myself to mumble, "Yes."

"Then jump."

I wanted to tell him he was insane, no way, he couldn't order me around, to return me to my lab. Somehow, I couldn't. I really did trust him, and I knew he would never let anything bad happen to me.

I jumped.

It's a wonderful feeling, plummeting towards the ground with nothing around you but the air. When there's no safety net, life feels a lot more real. I felt far more alive than I had in week, months.

Suddenly, there was a strong pair of arms around me, and we were soaring upwards, swooping around like some giant eagle. I felt grand, I felt free…I felt like a young child who could giggle and be impressed so easily.

We flew back to his skimmer, him sitting on the seat and me sitting on his lap. Our faces kept leaning in, closer and closer…I didn't want to say anything or ruin the moment…and then we were kissing.

I'm not quite sure how to describe how it feels. I'm still rather confused. What am I supposed to do? Do I confront him about it? What if he says it was just a spur of the moment sort of thing, and he doesn't like me that way? What if he does like me that way? I can't tell anyone, because then I'll look weak, and I just though, you know, maybe you might have some advice.

Sorry for dumping it on you, but really, sometimes I feel like I have no one to talk to. I hope you don't mind terribly.

~Cy

Dear Cy,

Wow! That's great! That's really great! You have no idea how awesome that is!

You have a whole legion of fanboys who would kill to take Dark Ace's place. I, as a more realistic person, am happy that you two have finally gotten together. It's like a fairy tale…so cute!

But really, besides the fact that you were just made for each other, it's such a perfect pairing in other ways. He respects you, you respect him (I would hope…I mean, he is you top commander), you've both known each other for a long time, and you can trust him with your life. I mean, really, if you're willing to jump off of a skimmer for him, what can go wrong? (I should try to convince my girlfriend to jump off of a skimmer with me! I'm not sure how well it will work, though; she's scared of heights.)

Anyways, if I were you, I'd let him make the first move, and try not to overanalyze everything. Sorry if it's not too helpful, but that's the best I can really do. Just go with the flow, and try to have fun. That's what dating and relationships are all about.

You know what I love so much about this internet of yours? People are starting to publish scholarly journals online. Really, I've read an article about how crystal innovative technologies discovered have been increasing by a rate of 135% because of the way the internet allows for the instant sharing of knowledge. You know what I find really interesting? There's a new line of clothes coming out, no one knows from where, and they contain crystals, like the warm-gloves, or the flying boots. Somehow, I suspect they come from Cyclonia…

Lark Cyclonis smiled. They were her idea—actually, they were based on her cape, which was the first piece of clothing ever to be powered by crystals. It began as a protection thing, as the cape was strong enough to stop any blow, but she had kept adding crystals, and the cape had almost taken a mind of its own. Searching for new revenues to fund math and science, she decided to release harmless, but helpful clothing. She didn't tell anyone she was the mastermind behind the operation because despite her benevolence (well, when she was in a good mood) towards the Atmos, people still mistrusted her. Knowing the clothing line was of her invention would be bad for business.

Grin still lighting up her face, she finished reading the letter, and began to type her reply.

-------

Months passed, the seasons turned, a year went by, and Atmos changed. People slowly began to stop rebelling, and stop holding grudges against the Cyclonian empire, and it showed. Science and medicine were advancing at a faster pace than ever before. The rate of literacy increased exponentially, and there were far fewer of the homeless and jobless. Chris had graduated from his school, and was now working as an assistant to a crystal scientist researcher. It didn't pay much, but it was a fine job, and he enjoyed it greatly.

When he came home that night, though (he did still live in his parents' house, as he was only eighteen, but he paid them rent to be financially independent), he knew something was wrong immediately. It was late—he had stayed longer than usual in the lab—and his little sister's light was still on. Downstairs came the sounds of shouting, and another scream.

"You know what, this is over! I hate you! Maybe once, you were someone to be admired, but now, you're just old, fat, and lazy! I don't want to spend another minute in your presence."

"Fine, you want a divorce?"

"Yes, I want a divorce! I want one right now! I never want to see your face again!"

"You selfish bitch! You don't care what this will do to Clara, or even Chris, do you?"

"Don't you dare drag the kids into it! You refused to go to Chris's graduation, even though he was valedictorian! You never see Clara's recitals. What are these kids to you, trophies to brag about? You've never done anything to be considered their father! You never even loved them! You cannot call yourself their father!"

There was another crash, the sound of a beer bottle being thrown against the wall.

"Shut your nasty mouth, woman!"

"Or what, you'll hit me? I'll call the police! You think that will hold up in court?"

Disgusted, Chris couldn't bear to listen to any more. He knew his parents fought, but he never knew it was this bad. In the backyard, there was a tree which he and Clara had climbed many times. Now, he used it to get to her bedroom window.

He knocked on it lightly, and she came to it, her eyes streaked with tears.

"Chris!" she cried out, her voice a bit muffled because she had thrown herself into his arms sobbing. "Mom and Dad are fighting again," she said in a small voice.

Again? How much had he missed? With his time spent away at the lab, he was rarely home, then when he was, he was always typing on his COMPUter.

"Don't worry," he said softly, hugging her, rubbing her back, trying to offer her all the comfort she could. "Get the things you most need, then come with me. I'm going to get you out of here."

To: CYberQueen

From: MagicDreamer

Subject: THIS IS CHRIS PLEASE READ I NEED HELP!

Cy,

Where did I go wrong? I'm not really sure. I don't even think it was one decision, but a series of events that lead me steadily into the gray. I badly need your help, and it's a long story, but once you told me about how sorry you were for dumping your own problems on me, but you needed someone, someone outside and impartial but friendly and understanding and caring to know, because some things are just too much of a burden to hold on your own.

I suppose I'm in trouble, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised it Talon police came to where I'm staying in a couple days. I kidnapped my little sister tonight, Cy, and now I have no idea what to do.

I was so blind. I was so wrapped up in my perfect life with my perfect job with the perfect girlfriend who also works in the same lab that I didn't care to see what was going on at home. I wasn't paying attention.

I've always known that my mother and father were not the example of a perfect marriage. I've seen times when my father comes home so drunk he can barely remember his name, and I've heard my own mother say the only reason she was staying with him was because she needed money to get Clara an education, and she knew he didn't care about us.

I brushed it all away. I told myself that I was a grown-up now, and it didn't affect me, and I didn't care.

It's funny how we lie to ourselves, Cy. I do care. I care very much. I feel my heart tearing apart at the memories of them fighting, at the wish for a perfect family.

But I'm not the victim here.

I've had a whole lifetime to prepare for this. I've lived with this for a long time. Clara…she was so oblivious.

She tells me the turning point was when I went and got a job. Mom didn't care as much anymore, and started fighting more with Dad. Dad got drunk more often. They couldn't stand being in the same room together. They started blaming each other for the smallest of things, fighting over the smallest of things…

Tonight was when I really first saw it, because tonight, I looked into Clara's eyes and saw fear.

I knew I couldn't leave her there, with Dad drunk and Mom furious, so I told her to pack some clothes and we ran.

I'm actually in my girlfriend's apartment right now—that's why the email address isn't mine. I didn't even have time to grab my computer before I fled.

Cy, what do I do? I don't know how to raise a kid. I don't want to raise a kid. Maybe I'm being selfish, but I'm eighteen now, and I want to live my own life and I have my own job and I have my own girlfriend and I don't want to think about getting her food, and clothes, and to school every morning. At the same time, she just looked at me with fear in her precious little eyes, and I couldn't leave her there.

I'm eighteen. I'm my own person now, and this doesn't really affect me that much. Maybe I'll have to find another place to live, but I was planning on moving in with my girlfriend soon anyways.

But what about Clara? She's only eleven. She will be the one who sits in the courtroom, watching her mother and father fight for every last possession. She will sit there while they fight over who gets to keep her. She will be the one subjected to moving back and forth between two different houses every week, or even worse, only getting to see one parent every month or so. She is the one who is really going to suffer, and she is the one who I can't protect. I can protect myself, but I can't help her.

Cy, what am I going to do?

~Chris

For three hours, Chris stayed awake at Rebecca's computer, waiting for an email back. Rebecca had gotten Clara snuggled down on the couch, and she was sleeping. Chris turned as Rebecca entered the room, holding another cup of coffee.

"Thank you," he whispered hoarsely, exhausted physically and emotionally, but still clinging to consciousness because some stubborn part of him told him that something big would happen right when he closed his eyes. She sighed, watching his slumped shoulders and haggard posture as he took another sip from the mug she brought him.

"Anytime. Nice of you to finally put my coffeemaker to good use; really, this must be the fifth time I've made a cup in the three months I've had it."

This brought a smile out of him. "You know what I mean. You didn't have to take us in."

"What was I going to do, leave the two of you out there in the cold and the dark? The circumstances are extreme, and I want to do everything I can to help."

"Most girlfriends wouldn't be so kind, or understanding."

"Most girlfriends don't know what 'love' truly means. It means being there when there's nothing in it for you, but because you can't bear to see that person suffer. Chris, I love you."

He smiled. "I love you too. You have no idea how much I love you."

The computer beeped, and both young adults swiveled to face the device. Sure enough, in the inbox was a message from a certain .

CYCLONIAN ACADEMY OF MUSIC AND FINE ARTS

An informational brochure on the various programs and schooling offered by this prestigious academy. Apply today! Attached is the necessary forms.

Chris looked up in disbelief. A brochure? He scrolled down to the bottom of the letter, where he saw Cyclonis's letter.

Chris—

I can't really mettle with the affairs of a divorce court without flat-out ordering something relying on my power as a dictator, and even then, it wouldn't help too much. It doesn't sound like Clara would be safe with either parent, and I know you can't raise her either. This was the best I could come up with in such short notice.

With so much less fighting, Ravess decided to retire from the service and open up a school of her own. I encouraged her—I knew how much she loved music, and we didn't need a whole Talon army now that we had peace. She still practices with her bow and skimmer all the time, though.

Anyways, you told me once that you went to one of Clara's recitals, and she played piano and violin, and she was so talented. You've mentioned her love for music in your letters. This was the first thing I thought of.

The school is incredibly expensive, but she would be sent of full scholarship, sponsored by myself personally. I will make sure she receives her own room in the palace near mine, and that she is safe and happy. If she at all shows any inclination of homesickness or wishes to leave, I will send her back to you. I will pay for any trips you wish to take to visit her in Cyclonia, or if she wishes to visit you.

Don't worry about the police forces of Terra Nord. I've already sent word to the captain of the Talons that you've been granted royal impunity regarding your sister.

I hope this is helpful. I'm so very sorry, but it was the most I could come up with in such a short period of time. If you need anything else, please just tell me, and I will do all I can to help you.

~Cy

------

"Here, eat up. You've got a big day ahead of you."

Rebecca placed a plate of scrambled eggs and a glass of orange juice in front of the grinning girl.

Apparently, her music teacher had told her all about Ravess's academy, and it was her dream to attend there someday, but she was held back by the whole 'money' issue. Clara was more than happy to go to Cyclonia to study her music more in-depth, and their parents, especially after receiving a letter from Master Cyclonis herself, couldn't say no. In the two days it took for them to arrange transport of for Clara to pack all of her belongings, both she and Chris had lived with Rebecca.

Chris, too, was ready for a journey, but not as big of one. He was just going to escort his little sister to Cyclonia, make sure she got settled in nicely, before coming back.

Ever since she was told she was going to CAMFA (Cyclonian Academy of Music and Fine Arts), it was like she was a whole new person. She got excited a lot more easily. She laughed a lot. It made Chris happy, to see his little sister so happy.

The journey was quick; it took a little over two hours, considering that Terra Nord wasn't exactly located close to Cyclonia. However, Clara, for all her excitement, didn't sleep the night before, so she napped the whole way, and Chris had someone to talk to. After about fifteen minutes in the air, another skimmer joined them.

"You're Chris?" The tall, lean man flying the new Talon Switchblade Elite with obsidian hair and crimson eyes gave him an appraising glance.

"Dark Ace," Chris muttered, surprised. "Why in the world are you here to escort us?"

"So you are Chris," the man, Dark Ace, continued. "Cy told me about you. She talks a lot about you, actually. I was curious, and, of course, she's so overprotective of you. She was fretting that something might happen to you, so I volunteered to join your guard. I don't really think I'm needed, but, of course, we couldn't have anything happen to an innocent civilian, could we?" Dark Ace sneered, his bottom lip curling.

Why was he being so nasty? Was it something Chris did? Suddenly, Chris realized what was going on—Dark Ace was jealous.

"Yeah, Rebecca—she's my girlfriend—was worried about me going, too. Must be something about girls, they must like to worry or something."

Dark Ace didn't visibly relax at all, not that he had looked tense in the first place, but Chris felt like he suddenly got a lot friendlier. Maybe it was just his imagination. "So Cy talks about me a lot?" he said tentatively.

"Not at all," Dark Ace replied. "She kept you a secret for a good long time, didn't want anyone finding out. One day, I saw her at her computer and asked her what she was doing, and she said she had a pen pal. It was only when she was freaking out about your sister did she tell me the whole thing: how she had been writing to you for over a year, how you told her about this problem, her solution, how freaked about you getting hurt she was. I began to wonder…"

"No, we've never met in person, but she's become a really good friend to me over the internet." Chris sighed, as if deep in thought. "I'm almost nervous about seeing her. I mean, we've only written to each other. Will it be weird in real life?"

The Dark Ace laughed. "Real life is weird. Get used to it. I've spent a year with her and I still don't know what she sees in me."

"What doesn't she see in you?" Chris replied, exasperated. "You were the only person who looked at her and saw more than power, money, or a person to manipulate. You were the only one she trusted. You were the only person who risked your own life to save hers only for the reward of seeing her safe. You don't care if she's weak, and she doesn't need to act strong around you, because in your eyes, she feels perfect."

The Dark Ace's own crimson orbs widened in surprise. Chris shrugged. "She writes a lot about you. You're what's mostly on her mind all the time."

Then, to his surprise, the Dark Ace started laughing.

"What?" Chris asked, suspicious.

"Well, I've been carrying around a ring for three months, and each time I think I'm going to ask her, I chicken out. All this worry for nothing!"

Chris grinned. "Well, such a waste. But congratulations. On, well, okay, I'll wait until after you've asked her to congratulate you."

"You seem to think pretty well of my chances."

"I know her, and I know how she sees you. Trust me, in reality, your pessimism is what doesn't have a chance."

------

It was weird, the first time they saw each other, but not as weird for Chris as it was for Cyclonis. After all, he had seen pictures of her before in the papers and all over the Internet and sometimes when she made announcements from the sky. He, however…once she had asked him for a physical description of himself, but he had just mangled the words. He never thought of sending a crystal or anything, because really, their friendship was intellectual only—there was no need for physical contact, and silently, both of them sort of felt that anything like that would break the fragile bonds of admiration, respect, and trust they held for one another.

She looked everything he expected her to, yet somehow, there was more warmth in her when she had just been his pen pal than now, when he looked up to her as his queen.

Silently, solemnly, he greeted her with the traditional Cyclonian salute of highest honor: head bowed, fist clenched over his heart. He saw a spark in her eyes, and though she would run over and greet him with a hug like an old friend, but she refrained. Instead, she nodded back, then smiled to his sister.

"You must be tired, young one," she said kindly. "Clara, is it not? Did you have a pleasant journey?"

Clara, being the eleven-year-old she was, had the wit to come up with a snarky response, and the lack of control to actually say it. "I wouldn't know, I slept through it."

For a moment, there was silence, then Dark Ace burst out laughing, and everyone else began to chuckle, too. Her wit and brazenness and the obvious fact that she was not intimidated by the company she was keeping pleased her Cyclonian superiors, and broke the tension in the air. Everyone began to chat as if they were old friends, which they were.

It was only when the Talons shouted for Chris to return, as they were growing impatient to get him back home, did the four realize how long they were dawdling. Chris flew off into the distance, although he didn't stop looking back and waving even when they were long out of sight.

-------

Dear Cy,

How's my little sis doing? She did seem happy when I left her, but did she settle in alright? Back here on the homefront, things have been turbulent, but nothing I can't handle. I've gotten all my stuff (including my computer, thank goodness) and—

"Cy? Can I talk to you?"

Her pale face snapped up, customary expression of annoyance adorning its beautiful, albeit in an unusual way, features. "Oh, Ace, it's you. Sorry, just finishing up reading a letter."

"With that pen pal of yours."

"He has a name, you know. Chris."

"I mean, I met him, he seems perfectly nice, maybe a bit smarter and more mature than the average guy, but I don't see what you see in him. Why do you waste so much time writing these long letters to him?"

"Are you jealous?"

"You're avoiding the question."

"So are you."

The Dark Ace sighed, averting his crimson gaze. "Sometimes I feel that you care more about writing him those letters than spending time with me."

Cyclonis laughed, a beautiful tinkling sound. "Now you're just being silly. Maybe that's why I like him so much. He was just a regular person, with regular problems. I've never had a regular friend. I just wanted a friend."

"You have me."

"You're not a friend." The Dark Ace stiffened. "You're much, much more than a friend."

The Dark Ace smiled, flashing two rows of pearly whites. "Come with me?" She did.

He lead her up, through the palace, to the balcony on the very top, where she used to come as a child when she wanted to be alone and look out and pretend she ruled over everything she could see. The view stretched for hundreds of miles around, and, of course, she had already ruled most of it.

Now, all of it, and more, was hers.

The Dark Ace noted all this, and the still-excited expression on her face, whimsically. "Every man wishes to give his love the world," he sighed. "But you've already taken it for yourself. It's better that way. I may know how to command an army in war, but you know how to hold the world together in peace."

She smiled at him quizzically. "Was that a compliment?"

"It was supposed to be."

Her grin widened. "Do you remember the first time we kissed?"

He nodded.

"Do you trust me, Dark Ace?"

He nodded again.

"Then jump."

Still smiling, he threw himself off of the edge, soaring freely through the air, plunging ever-closer to the lava-strewn Wastelands below.

"See, this is really flying," a voice whispered into his ear. He would have jumped out of his own skin if it were possible to jump in midair.

Suddenly, he realized they were soaring forwards, not downwards. The Levitation Crystals she used were so subtle that he had never noticed he had stopped falling.

"You're not scared, are you?" Now, her voice was teasing.

"You were scared when you jumped, that first time."

"Who wouldn't be, when only a bit of metal and fabric making up those hang gliders of yours were holding me up?"

"Well, maybe I have more faith in my solid, real hang gliders than your invisible crystal magic."

"Hmph," was her only reply.

Soon enough, the sun began to set, and Cyclonis had other duties, so she flew them back to the palace roof. Unlike hang gliders, crystals could propel one indefinitely, yet neither, to their displeasure, had an infinite amount of time to waste. As she turned to go inside, he called out, "Cy?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

She smiled, then turned away again.

"And Cy?"

"You seem abnormally nervous, Dark Ace. Spit it out."

"Will you marry me?"

This time, when she turned around, she stepped closer to him, putting her hands on the side of his face. After studying his expression intently, for a long time, she leaned in, whispering, "Yes, Dark Ace, I will marry you."

On the palace rooftop, under the light of the setting sun, the two kissed, responsibilities and work to do forgotten completely.

Downstairs, in her chambers, Cyclonis's computer screen switched itself to screensaver mode. The letter had been forgotten.

-----

Dear Chris,

Sorry I've taken a little while to reply; I've been slightly busy. Your sister, of course, is fine—she loves it here, I swear, she has an infinite amount of excitement and energy, and even Ravess can't find too much to criticize about her playing. She's already made loads of friends, but I'm sure she's told you all about it. After all, despite your financial situation, all students in Cyclonia are required to own a personal COMPUter, and I didn't mind providing her one. I'd be surprised if your inbox was not flooded with her messages, for the amount of time she's been spending on there.

As for the little bet you and Rebecca had, Rebecca is completely correct—and Icer and a Firebolt can be combined, they just must both be perfectly harmonized first then the result must also be re-harmonized within thirty seconds or it explodes on you. I should know, as I was the one who discovered this. There were enough explosions in my lab—but I did it in the end, that's what really matters.

So, I have some interesting news to share; actually, I've been bursting to tell you, but I've been afraid that if I started out talking about it I would not be able to stop then I would forget to address the previous matters that you had mentioned. Chris, I'm getting married.

The wedding will be in the spring, on a small, agricultural terra that my ancestors were originally from. Father is buried there. It's so beautiful, in the spring, when the cherry trees blossom, it's like the air is filled with joy and color and light perfume. You simply must be there—your sister has already agreed (or more like forced me to let her) to be a flower girl.

Thank you, Chris, for being such a good friend. I hope that you, too, can find happiness like this.

~Cy

'I hope that you, too, can find happiness like this.'

Chris closed his eyes, and forced himself not to slam his head against the screen of his computer. It had been hard, coming back, harder than he had let on. Crystals were not the only things he and Rebecca had argued about. He was now completely cut off from his family, and it hurt more than he had thought it would. Now, despite the optimism in her letter, Cyclonis would have little time to write to him. Especially…well, she had to start thinking about an heir to the throne. Between juggling children, and ruling, and her new husband, she wouldn't have the time or energy to write to a commoner like him.

'I hope that you, too, can find happiness like this.'

Suddenly, he was filled with determination. He picked up the crystal-powered, short-range radio.

"Rebecca?"

"Chris, oh, it's you. Look, I've been meaning to talk to you."

"So have I. May I say my piece?"

"If you've come to apologize—"

"I haven't. Cyclonis—"

"Who, your girlfriend?"

"My pen pal. She's engaged."

"I am on the brink of breaking up with you. You are not proposing to me over the phone."

"No, I'm not. She wrote something…something about finding happiness. Look, Rebecca, I know we've been arguing. I know we've had fights. You're not perfect, I'm not perfect, but that's what makes life interesting. And no one—no one—can ever make me as happy as just seeing you smile will."

"Well, I'm smiling right now, even if you can't see it. I have to say, that was pretty sweet of you."

"What can I say, I'm a hopeless mushy romantic."

"Should I get a vase ready?"

"Depends, do you like red roses or white roses?"

"How about you forget about flowers and come over and apologize in person?"

"Sounds like a deal. I love you, Rebecca."

"I love you too, Chris."

He didn't come right over. He carefully shut off his COMPUter first. His friendship with Cyclonis was not forgotten, no, but he had his own life to live, and he intended to live it.

------

The years passed. Dark Ace and Cyclonis were happy together, and soon two young children, Rachael and Gabriel, were tumbling around the Cyclonian palace with their crystals and hang-gliders and fake daggers. Clara grew to be a master violin player, replacing Ravess when the magenta-haired (well, more truly, grey-haired) ex-Talon decided to retire. Rebecca and Chris grew old together, and smiled upon their own children and grandchildren horsing around.

Yet not all stories have a happy ending. Rebecca grew old, old and frail, and in trying to move her to a better health care institution in Cyclonia, she passed away. Cyclonis grew tired, and rumors passed through the palace that she was sick, that her crystal experiments were killing her. Chris could not put the burden of his welfare on his children, who were barely adults on their own, so he turned to his last remaining relative, Clara.

And so Chris finally came to live in the Cyclonian palace, and call its cold black corridors and long sweeping halls full of shadow and dust his home. Of course, the children brought more light to it, but there was no mistaking the dampness and dreary mood overtaking the castle.

Lark Cyclonis, the girl who had conquered the Atmos, the evil, cursed tyrant. No one called her that anymore, for history is written by the victors.

Lark Cyclonis, the bringer of peace.

She was dying, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

No one was assassinating her, there was no sickness, or disease, no wound, nothing that science, or medicine, or the crystal arts could heal. The years of stress and far too much responsibility had taken their toll on her. Simply put, she was dying of old age.

Yet before she was going to leave the Atmos, there was one person in particular to whom she wished to speak.

"Chris, my old friend."

"Cy, looking younger every day."

"Oh, yes, that's so funny, I'm laughing at your wit."

He had long since gotten used to her presence, and was no longer so in awe of her that he couldn't tease her. "But really, you look better, you'll be up and about by tomorrow."

"Chris, I'm not sure if I want to be up and about by tomorrow. This body is old, and done for. I'm not happy. I do not wish to drag it out." She smiled sadly, a small smile that did not reach her eyes. "Besides, it matters not what I wish, for my body is tired. I will not last another day."

"What about your children?"

"I have already spoken my words to them. Rachael is quite the diplomat, and she may be only seventeen, but she is ready for the throne. I ruled at a much younger age than her, and look where I've brought us. Gabriel has been placed in charge of the vast resources and teams of scientists that Cyclonia has. He loves crystal arts, and he shall have them."

"Why am I here, though?"

"You were a friend for me, when I needed one, and someone to talk to, even when I didn't need one. You were always there for me, and I wanted to thank you."

"I could say the same for you."

"Yeah, well, I'm on my deathbed, so I get to say whatever I want, and you just have to take it."

"Oh, really? You've done more for me than I could ever do for you. My sister was just the heap of the iceberg."

"And I could list all of the wonderful things that came from my friendship with you, but this isn't a mutual admiration society. I asked you here to say goodbye. If they have COMPUters in the afterlife, I promise I'll write you."

"I doubt that's allowed."

"Then I'll just conquer the whole Beyond World and make it allowed."

There was silence for a moment, then, "Chris, you're not crying, are you?"

Chris swallowed the lump in his throat, then tearfully nodded.

"Sheesh, you're making a bigger fuss out of this than me, and I'm not sure that's possible." She cleared her throat, with an unhealthy, hacking sound. "Well, I only have one last request, my friend. May I see you smile one last time?"

So Chris grinned for her, forcing his facial muscle to lift the corners of his mouth as the tears poured down his cheeks, unrestrained, in a half-hearted attempt to cheer up his dying best friend.

------

The Dark Ace entered the room next, and stayed there for a long, long time. The next morning, they saw he had fallen asleep next to her dead body. She had passed away silently, in her sleep.

"You don't look to upset."

Surprised, the Dark Ace looked up, only to see Chris standing over him. At one point, the Champion of Cyclonia would have been upset to be disturbed as such, but now, he was grateful for someone who shared the burdens he carried.

"She forbade me to mourn her passing."

"Since when do you listen to her?"

"Since when don't you listen to her?"

Chris laughed. "I'm not really sure. Took me a little while to stop looking at her as my Master and start looking at her as my friend."

"That's blasphemy, you know."

"She didn't want a mindless servant. She just wanted a friend. So did I. We both needed a friend…" Chris trailed off, lost in his thoughts.

"She loved—no, she loves to fly," the Dark Ace mused. "That's what comforted me, in the end. She's not afraid. She's flying, somewhere, soaring. 'Do you trust me, Ace?' she said. 'I know that you can catch me, but I don't need you to catch me right now. I don't want you to catch me. I want you to let me go.'"

Chris tried to let her go, he truly did, but some nights, when he missed her more than usual, he would take out her old letters and read them. And when he began to cough, and had to move to senior care, then to the hospital, he was free of fear. After all, he knew she was waiting for him on the other side.

She had only been a pen pal, yet he knew that she had been the greatest friend of all.


No plot, completely random, not that well written…the list goes on. Still, I tried. At least I tried. Happy Christmas, and I hope you've enjoyed it despite its faults.