And here is the final installment of this short story. I figured I'd post it while I was thinking of it so I didn't forget. Enjoy!
"I can't believe it!"
Aaeru wasn't sure if it was a mistake, but there was the Simoun in front of her. The hatches to the sagitta and auriga cockpit were open, and the Simoun itself was in pristine condition. She didn't see Neviril nearby though and wondered if she had been here yet. Perhaps she had and wasn't nearby at the moment.
Moving closer, she began to inspect the Simoun. They'd need to have everything in working condition if they were to perform the Emerald when Neviril arrived. She looked at the workings and controls. Nothing seemed disturbed or harmed. Satisfied, she hopped down, moving to the emergency compartment where they'd kept the supplies throughout their travels. Everything seemed to be in place. Nothing was stolen or broken.
Her stomach rumbled, and she realized that now was a good time to prepare a meal. Neviril could join her as soon as she arrived. She hummed to herself as she searched for the flint, wrapped away in a waterproof box. Never once did it occur to her that there was a chance that Neviril wouldn't show up now that she had found the Simoun. If she had found one, the other would soon follow.
Neviril was slowly walking through the forest, keeping her ears open. A slight, very soft noise came from up ahead, and she tilted her ear in that direction. It didn't seem natural. She walked a bit more quickly, hope rising up in her chest. If it were… Her footsteps became heavier. The sound became louder and she was certain now that it had to be someone.
The sight of the back of the Simoun was something she would never be able to put into words. And there was Aaeru, reaching into the emergency compartment, searching for something. "Aaeru!" she called out, though her voice was much softer than she expected. It came out above a whisper. She tried again, and this time her voice was louder.
Aaeru turned her head at the sound of her name. "Neviril!" she called back when she spotted the girl in the distance. In her excitement she forgot to pay attention, and the flint box tumbled onto her head. She called out in pain and rubbed the spot, but it didn't matter. She made her way toward Neviril.
Immediately she realized that Neviril looked far worse off than she did. The girl was dirty, but there was something else too, something she couldn't put her finger on, save for knowing that Neviril just didn't look herself. "It's good to—"
She didn't get to finish as Neviril closed the gap between them. Aaeru felt her body shaking, and the sobs she let loose. She put her arms around the girl, instinctively holding her close. That was when the stench hit her nose and she knew why Neviril didn't look herself.
"You're… you're sick?" she asked.
"N-no… poison strawberries… I couldn't tell the difference…"
Another thing she had never taught Neviril. It was something only she had done to care for them both. She had never thought Neviril would ever be without her. There was so much she needed to teach her love, things she needed to make up for. She'd start now.
"Come on," called Aaeru, letting go of Neviril's body and taking her by the hand. Neviril resisted, pulling Aaeru back to her.
"Don't go…" she whispered. The fear in her eyes was vivid. It had been a long time since Aaeru had seen her this scared. She wondered if Neviril had had another nightmare.
"I'm not going to go. I told you before, Neviril. I'll never leave your side." She grinned and guided Neviril with her. "Come on. I have an idea."
She led Neviril to the edge of the river, which sparkled in the sunlight. The weather was warm. She had tested the water that morning when she'd stopped to wash her face. It was slightly warm, but it would do. She began to undress Neviril.
"What are you doing?"
"I know you don't like being so dirty, and if you ate the strawberries you probably don't feel yourself… a bath will help you feel better." She tossed Neviril's clothes into a pile before beginning to take off her own.
When they both stood naked together, she took Neviril's hand and led her into the water slowly. Neviril had a tight grip on her hand, but she had never planned to let go. Her only focus was on making Neviril feel better.
They walked until the water was just above waist deep. Aaeru ran her hands over Neviril's body, caressing tired muscle and washing away the grim and disgust she knew Neviril felt. She'd worry about herself later.
Neviril closed her eyes, focusing on the water and Aaeru's touch. Aaeru had been right; she did feel better. She felt more like herself and less like the girl who had stumbled onto the Simoun. Her dream began to seem silly. Aaeru wouldn't leave her so suddenly and she knew it, but when she didn't feel herself, and when the darkness seemed too daunting, the dreams got to her. She couldn't push the fear down then. She turned and wrapped her arms around Aaeru's smaller frame, pulling the girl close to her.
"Neviril?" questioned Aaeru, not expecting the embrace.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Um…you're welcome…I think…"
The two dried and dressed. Aaeru reached for the box that held the flint and remembered what she'd promised herself. She looked back at Neviril, who was finishing putting the clips back into her hair.
Neviril looked up, pausing. "Hmm?"
"Want to help me light the fire?"
"Sure… I'd like to learn."
Aaeru grinned. "All right."
"…Then just hold it like this."
"This?" asked Neviril. She knelt by the fire pit that she had helped make, and the dry branches she'd helped collect. She wasn't sure if she was holding the pieces correctly in her hands. She pursed her lips, trying to consider her options when she felt Aaeru's hands settle over her own. Together, they struck the flint and lit the fire.
"Just like that!" grinned Aaeru. She put the flint away.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep!" She placed the box to her side and looked back up at Neviril. Neviril was smiling, pleased with herself. Aaeru couldn't resist leaning up and kissing her.
Neviril kissed her back before glancing over to the branches Aaeru had set aside. Once more, she felt nervous. She wasn't sure about all the new things Aaeru was teaching her. Aaeru reached out and took her by the hand. "Come on. I'll teach you."
"And after we catch them, then they need cleaned, right?"
Aaeru kissed her cheek. "Don't worry. I'll help you learn." She'd never leave Neviril in the dark again simply because she knew how to do it and Neviril had never learned. She'd never let something like what had happened during the time they were apart happen again. She blamed herself.
Somewhere from above, Tempus Spatium looked down on the two eternal maidens. The trials they'd been through had been a test, meant to bring them closer together, to bond in ways they had never considered, and to help them overcome their fears. They were never stronger than when they faced obstacles together, relying on each other.