Author's Note: Hey! An update? So soon? Craziness. If you're enjoying this story (or not) please leave a review to let me know which parts you like/don't. It's really helpful for me :3
Chapter 11: Words
Night had all but fallen by the time the two spoke again. Dinner had been a quiet affair, with Viktor trying in vain to stir up some kind of conversation.
"I give up," he had said finally, throwing up his hands in frustration, "I'm going to grab some more firewood."
The dying fire had been more for cooking than for light, as the fading sunlight made way for the light of the stars. Ariel sat with her back against a tree trunk unable to keep her mind away from the afternoon's argument. Her first emotion was embarrassment. She had never so completely lost control of herself like that. The distress of leaving her sister was an immense weight around her heart, and she had jumped at the chance to blame someone. But the Highland army was to blame, not the man across the camp.
Thoughts of Flik opened her mind to guilt. He and Viktor had saved her from the clutches of soldiers and she hadn't thanked him. Instead she had accused him of not doing enough. His final words to her had really thrown her though, and she racked her brain for all her knowledge of Blue Lightning Flik. She had clearly touched a nerve when she threw accusations about not understanding her situation.
He had been a member of the Liberation Army in the recent Gate Rune war. She hadn't paid much attention to the conflict, except to reassure herself that it wouldn't travel to Jowston. But the problem had remained contained in the Scarlet Moon Empire, now the Toran Republic. The empire had been overthrown by the likes of Flik, Mathiu Silverberg and Tir McDohl. Ariel had been fascinated when she heard about the young leader.
The idea that a boy, no older than Saffron, could lead an army had amazed her. He had been appointed leader after the previous one, Odessa Silverberg, had died. She was a fascinating figure as well, famous for founding the Liberation Army. Ariel had also heard that she had been the lover of one of her generals-
"Oh," she whispered.
She looked across the camp at Flik, finally realising the full weight behind his words, and the weight of her accusations towards the famous general.
Oh, she repeated in her head.
After a few minutes spent getting her head around the situation, she rose from her spot and walked towards him. He was sitting on a log, staring into the fire. He looked up as she approached, but did not speak. She didn't either, choosing instead to sit down next to him in silence.
The light from the small fire flickered across his handsome features, bringing warmth into his cool blue eyes. She had known his face before she had met him. Most people did. Looking at him now, in person, she understood why. It was the kind of face you'd want to draw or paint.
Handsome and famous, Saffron, she said mentally.
She almost smiled at herself for speaking to her sister inside her head, but Flik turned to look at her. She wiped as much emotion from her face as she could, embarrassed at her line of thought. She looked down at her knees. She decided she needed to say something. There was so much she wanted to say.
"Thank y-" she began.
"I'm sorry," he said at the same time.
He looked as surprised as she felt, but he continued.
"I'm sorry I didn't save your sister. If I could have the time over again I would drain the rune of everything it had. I'm sorry you have to go through this alone."
Ariel's lips parted but she couldn't find any words. His apology was not part of the speech she had planned in her head.
"And now I'm sorry I interrupted you," he said with a half-smile.
She returned the expression and resumed her sentence.
"Thank you for saving me," she said softly, "and I'm sorry too. Saffron was mine to protect, not yours. You saved me from the soldiers when you didn't have to. You're getting me to safety when you don't have to…"
She felt guilty for being so ungrateful, and was also slightly overcome by thinking about his famous past, and the trauma she had brought up.
"Sir Flik," she said in an accidentally formal manner, "I'm sorry I said all of those things."
To Ariel's surprise, he let out a short laugh.
"I appreciate the recognition, but can we leave out the 'sir' part?" he asked, "it makes me feel old."
Ariel put a hand over her eyes to hide her embarrassment, but left her grin uncovered.
"No problem," she replied.
They set out early the next morning, Viktor once again leading the way. They clambered over an outcrop of rocks to reach the top of the rise.
"Remind me again how this is a shortcut?" Ariel said loudly to Flik.
He gave an exaggerated shrug in reply.
"Ask our peerless navigator," he replied in a similarly loud manner.
Viktor turned and looked down at them from the top of the rise.
"Hey! Just because you two aren't arguing now doesn't mean you can have a go at me. I'll get us to South Window!"
The pair shared a glance, and Ariel wondered how Flik went through this without someone to share those looks with. When they reached the top, she was pleased to see that it was mostly flat land ahead of them. She breathed a sigh of relief and followed Viktor down the slope.
The big man set quite a pace going up the hills, and it was easier for Ariel to keep up o flat land.
"Hey Flik," Viktor said as they caught up, "do you think Riou and Jowy got out okay?"
"I hope so," Flik replied, "They're decent fighters. And that Jowy is a smart kid, I'm sure they'll be fine."
The name Jowy rang a bell, but Ariel couldn't put her finger on where she knew it from.
"Friends of yours?" she asked them.
"Well… uh," Viktor started, "it's hard to explain. They were our prisoners."
"Then they were escapees," Flik added.
"Then Riou fought Flik and they became our soldiers."
"Sounds complex," Ariel laughed.
"Yeah," said Viktor, "especially when you consider that they're Highlanders we imprisoned for maybe being Highland spies who escaped back to Highland and accused of being State spies only to be rescued by us and taken to Muse to actually become State spies."
"My head hurts," Ariel confessed.
"Mine too," replied Flik, "but Riou and Jowy fought to protect Muse. Nanami too, Riou's brat sister."
"So Jowy was a soldier?" Ariel asked, trying to remember where she knew the name from.
"Yep!" Viktor confirmed, "he was pretty good with a staff."
Ariel cast her mind back to before Highland attacked. It seemed like weeks ago, not days. She recalled a young man coming into the rune shop who Saffron had tried to impress.
"I think I met him," Ariel smiled at the memory, "he came into the rune shop."
She added him to list of names and faces to wonder about. She hoped he was okay, he seemed like a nice kid.
"The Muse rune shop?" Flik inquired, "they helped out with the battle preparation, right?"
"Yeah, my sister and I were fitting soldiers with runes for hours."
"I think I remember you two now," he said, "you were the only ones smiling."
Ariel had a sudden memory flash of that day, and the jokes her and Saffron had made about the soldiers. Their laughter had caught the attention of a handsome soldier in blue…
Oh no, Ariel thought to herself, that is so embarrassing.
"Ha… yeah," she said, her face flushed red, "that was quite inappropriate in retrospect…"
"Hey! Someone's gotta smile!" Viktor told her with a grin.
"Still, they were about to risk their lives…"
"True," Flik continued, "but soldiers sometimes need that. They need to be reminded what's at stake. A pretty girl's smile reminds them what they're fighting for."
Pretty girl? she asked herself, her face growing redder.
Viktor let out a booming laugh. Ariel was suddenly incredibly interested in her feet. She watched as her boots flattened the grass with every step. If she had looked up, she might have seen the warning look Flik had given his companion.
"What I mean is," he continued, "seriousness is good, but morale is also invaluable for the troops."
"In which case, I'm glad I could help!" she replied cheerfully, willing her blush to disappear.
"Hey!" Viktor exclaimed, "Is that the road?!"
Ariel looked up the see a wide stretch of flat dirt up ahead. She breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the True Runes that they weren't lost.
"Phew," muttered Flik, echoing her sentiments, "can't be far now."
He was right. Two hours later, the city of South Window was in sight. The trio picked up the pace, all three of them looking forward to a cooked meal and a warm bath.