The night was chilly in the northern city of Roudo. Inside the Inn, I was restless. Not only had the cold that bothered me, but also all the events surrounding my visit to the Pholthia capital contributed to my troubled state of mind. Poor Gueld… the White Witch was mercilessly murdered for trying to save Tiraswell. Murdered for nothing. Murdered for trying to be just and compassionate. Is it fair? Is it fair, my God? Nah, life is not fair. It was a reality too harsh for a young teenager to digest, but life just isn't fair. Consequently, the motives for Revas and Isabelle wanting to cause mayhem in bringing Tiraswell, and the whole planet down, were particularly disturbing. They want to save their butts at the expense of our butts. How nice they were! To think that the beautiful silver-haired girl had to pay with her life for their iniquity…
I missed Ragpick Village. After all those months far from home, I had seen many colorful and exciting places, and I had never expected I'd miss that small set of cottages, a small enclave in Pholthia mountains, where nothing happened. But I did miss it. And the homesickness feeling was increased by the geographic proximity between Roudo and the Ragpick Village. Ah, if I could just drop by, and see how my parents and friends were doing… There was no time for that, though. Besides, if it was not already enough, there was also the anxiety preceding the hardest battle of my life. The burden of saving the world was placed over the frail shoulders of a 14-year-old boy. Can you imagine that? It was a cross too heavy to carry. But what could I do then? Say that I wasn't not cut for the job and leave? No, I couldn't do that when the future of our world depended on us.
I was lying on my bed, but could not get any sleep, because my mind would not stop thinking about everything that had happened since I've left Ragpick Village for my coming-of-the-age pilgrimage. I would never stop, never. How can anyone fall asleep when you know you have to fight in a battle where your chances are slim? And I think everybody knows how impossible it is to fall asleep when you start thinking I need to fall asleep. It is almost a magical curse.
Although I had matured a lot during this pilgrimage with Christina, my dear childhood friend, I was still a teenager. And, although I was not a crybaby anymore… well, in fact, I've never considered myself a crybaby. It was just a nickname invented by my dear bullish friend Chris. Undeservedly, I would say. Just because I was lost once, and cried for help… She gave me this nickname because she is insane, that is it. How I hate her sometimes... Anyway, I didn't consider myself a crybaby, but I knew I was not a seasoned warrior who could remain impassive while facing such a dangerous threat. I had left his home to embark in what I expected to be a peaceful pilgrimage with Chris, a leisure trip, which would enable me to visit beautiful places, meet interesting people. Interesting girls, particularly. I was fourteen, and my instincts were asking me desperately to find a girlfriend. Every man knows how it is when we are fourteen. And, in that rustic Ragpick Village, there were no girls I could date. Oh, there was Chris… but Chris was almost like a sister… yes, there was only Chris. However, instead of joy, the two adolescents, Chris and I, were thrown into the turmoil that was shaking the whole Tiraswell continent. And, although we managed to overcome the hardships with the help of many valuable allies, I was still a boy, with my fears, doubts, wishes, dreams, and desires. Desires. Desires that abounded in my 14-year-old-boy's mind. And there was Chris…
"Chris?" I whispered softly after hearing my female companion moving on her bed. I was not sure whether she was awake or not, and, knowing her temper, I can assure you that the least thing I wanted was to wake her up on purpose, for it would surely mean that I would get no sleep at all that night.
"Oh, Jurio?" Chris promptly answered. "Are you awake too?"
"Yes, Chris. I can't sleep." Then I added with my voice noticeably changed, mirroring the feelings I had at that moment. "I'm feeling cold."
Chris, however, seemed unaware of my change of tone, or so I thought. "Why don't you ask the innkeeper for more blankets?"
"Huh… Heh…" I laughed nervously, and rubbed my neck as I usually did (and still do, sometimes) when feeling anxious. "It is just… just that… I… I…"
Chris was somewhat disturbed by my hesitation. "Say it, Jurio!"
"I thought… that… me… you…"
The red-haired girl raised her voice due to my indecisiveness. "Spill it out!"
"You could… come here to warm me." I complied with my friend's request to speak my mind out, but then I sighed and immediately regretted. That was it, I had played the fool and ruined everything, my mission, my friendship with Chris, everything. I expected that the hotheaded tomboyish girl would explode in a fit of rage, but that was not happened, for my surprise. At least not at that moment.
"Why? Is the crybaby Jurio feeling scared?" She asked nonchalantly, but there was a discrete hint of irony in her voice.
"Stop it, Chris, I'm not a crybaby…" I protested. Who did she think she was to bully me like that? Well, thinking better, I think that bullying was a prerogative of being my best friend, and she had the right of doing that occasionally. However, it got on my nerves when she called me a crybaby, so I answered. "Besides, I'm not feeling scared…"
The red-haired girl was visibly at loss. "So what?"
I looked at her bed. In the blackness of the night, I could barely see anything, but I had the image of my friend clear in my mind, as if I was staring at her, actually. The tomboyish and bullish little girl I knew since I was aware of my own existence as a person had always been my inseparable company. As the only children around my age in the small Ragpick Village, I've grown accustomed to her face, her smile, her voice, her looks, her ways, her wicked temper, and even her weird, almost insane antics. She was so much part of me that I considered Chris the closest person to me, even closer than my own parents. Many times, I have quarreled with her over silly things, only to see my heart melt when she suddenly became sweet again. And how sweet she is when she wants to be sweet! Many times, I had been surprised by her tomboyish manners, being more energetic than I was, and thinking back now, I could not thank her more for being such a tomboy. She would gladly join me on games and other activities made for boys, which other girls would refrain from taking part in. I do not know if she did that because her personality was inclined for that, or if she sacrificed her natural tendency for girlish interests because of me, and ended becoming a tomboy. In any case, I am deeply thankful to her for that. Many times, she would be there, to let me share my fears and worries with her, to comfort and help me overcoming them, to cheer me up, to make me move forward. Even if it came with the price that she would make fun of me later, it was worthwhile. Not to count how many times she healed me during our journey. Because of that, I can even forgive the fact that she used me as bait for Galga.
However, that fiery redhead had grown. She had become a woman. And what a pretty woman, she was! I, as a young teenager, couldn't help noticing how my childhood friend had changed. How her once cute childish face became gradually delicate and feminine, how her skin seemed smooth, her legs looked nice, and her chest had gradually grown to accommodate a beautiful rack… How did that small toddler become such a pretty and gorgeous woman? With my hormones racing at the speed of light, I couldn't look at Chris without seeing a dateable woman... A desirable woman. Very desirable, I would say. And, so close to me, at the reach of my hands…
"I wanted to hold someone…" I answered shyly. Chris didn't answer me, but the way she jerked her body, it was like she was asking if I had gone nuts. Then, I added, "I'm feeling lonely…"
"Lustful, you mean." Chris answered with such a natural tone that it shocked me. However, inside, she must have been making a great effort to control herself. Although she was feeling insulted, she didn't want to burst in a fit of rage before knowing for certain what I had meant. I think she hardly believed what her longtime friend had asked from her.
"Yeah…" I answered mindlessly, but immediately regretted, and added, trying to sound as if she was mistaken about my intentions. "Hey, what did you say, Chris?" However, it not only sounded fishy, but also it was too late. Chris had already come down with full force over me.
"Who do you think you are talking to?" The fiery redhead yelled at me madly. "Do you think I am one of those girls you've met around there, ready to provide you comfort for the night for a handful of piers, or even nothing at all? Did you forget who I am?" She was facing me, with her head tilt upwards, held by her left arm. She stared at me so furiously that I had the impression that sparks were coming out of her eyes.
I knew I had screwed it grandly, so answering her question was not easy. Maybe the best thing would be to turn to the other side and pretend I hadn't said anything. But I knew that I wouldn't come out of the situation I foolishly had myself into only by shutting my mouth and letting the subject die. She demanded answers, and she was not the kind of girl who would let it go without striking back.
"No… no… Chris… it is not…"
"So what is it?" She interrupted me dryly.
I swallowed hard. The fiery redhead had me cornered. If I would tell her the truth, she would realize she had been right on the spot. Yes, I was feeling lustful. I wanted to hold her in my arms, feel her body, and kiss her fervently. But how could I say that to my dear friend, straight-faced? No, I couldn't. Not after her aggressive reaction. Of course, I didn't have in mind that I could use her for my pleasures freely, I briefly thought about dating her, or even marrying her. But it all proved how absurd was my idea. The fact that I knew her since forever was not enough, it was not the kind of decision to take on a whim. Especially when driven by hormones. I didn't really know what to answer, so I babbled anything, just to send the ball to her court. "I thought… you could like it, perhaps?"
"What?" She was mad at my answer, and yelled out loud her indignation with me. I tried to make her stop shouting, because Stella, Durzel, the Innkeeper, or other customers could overhear our conversation, but to no avail. Luckily, it was dark, so I could conceal how pink my face was. "Do you think I have fallen for you, Jurio?" Then, she let out a sarcastic laughter, and lowered her tone. "You are confusing me with that ditzy blonde."
I was feeling relieved that she lowered her voice. But, I was feeling so anxious that I didn't know who was the blonde Chris was talking about. "Ditzy blonde?"
"Yes, that Filly. Why don't you go and ask her?"
"Huh?" Of course, I knew very well who was Filly. She was the sweet girl we have met during our journey. The very one that saved Chris' life when she was sick and helpless, as we advanced towards the last shrine of our pilgrimage. It did hurt a bit to hear Chris talk like that about her, for she was the kindest girl I've ever met. And stunningly pretty. So pretty that Chris was jealous of her. And it was one of the small things that led me to believe Chris felt something deeper for me.
"Don't you remember the girl that used to say 'I'll miss you, Jurio!', 'I wish I could spend more time with you, Jurio!'" Chris said so with a ridiculous voice, making fun of Filly, and I felt that she had gone too far, so I interrupted her.
"Of course I remember her!"
Though I answered irritated, it didn't seem to bother Chris. If there was something I hated on her, it was that she didn't know when to stop. "So, why don't you ask her to sleep with you? She is the perfect girl for you, since you both are crybabies and share the same mental age of 7."
I was revolted. I was used to her bullying, but I would not admit that she offended Filly, who had never done anything do deserve those insults. "Chris!" But my shout didn't have any effect on her. She was so absorbed in her own ideas that she ignored me and continued.
"Why don't you go ask her? Maybe she let you hold her hand. Or sleep with her bear." She laughed vigorously. Although I hated to be the target of her jokes, there was something in her way of laughing that pleased me. It made her seen more attractive to my eyes. "Come on, Jurio, find her and sing her a song: 'Baby, let me be your lovin' Teddy Bear'" I was about to burst, but now, thinking back, it had been a funny scene. And the devil's voice was so beautiful! She really knew how to sing, even if she was making fun of me. 'Oh, Filly, let me... BANG-BANG!'"
Chris started laughing, out of control, much to my dismay, repeating the name of Filly's bear in a double entendre joke. I think it was the moment of my life I was closer to punching a girl. A good girl, I mean, because I had to fight some female foes during my journey. And I confess it was not easy to fight women. Although it is a foolish thought, because a female opponent is still an opponent, and I'm sure they would kill me if they had the opportunity to do so. However, I don't know if it is because I'm a hopeless romantic, but I felt much worse killing a woman foe than a man. But here I digress. I was mad at Chris, and she couldn't stop laughing. She was laughing so much that tears were falling from her eyes. She seemed to be having the time of her life, at my expense. After a few minutes, I decided to try to stop her, for her laughter ringed inside my ears as insults.
"And all that because you consider yourself mature..."
She promptly answered in a dignified way, countering all the effect of my irony. "Because I am mature." She stressed the am as if proved that she was more mature than I was. At least it was enough to stop her irritating laughter.
I resumed my counterattack "Heh, that is not what Goose thinks, for he said he was not interested in an underage girl..."
"Boo! And you take his pestering for serious. That only proves how immature you are, dear Jurio." She didn't seem to be moved by my comment.
"Heh, you say that because you don't care about him. You have eyes only for Lodi." I tried to conceal the irritation in my voice through irony. I know she was my best friend and I shouldn't attack her, but my pride was so hurt that I wouldn't leave the fight without scoring at least one hit.
I mistook her confusion for embarrassment, so I probed further, thinking I had hit a sensitive spot. "Oh, weren't you that confessed to become aroused just to see him in shorts?"
"Ah, Jurio, don't make me laugh again, my belly is already aching! He is good-looking, but I was just complimenting his good taste for clothes when he was unsure about that. His taste is much better than yours, with your country hick garments."
Her acid remark was what I needed to provoke her even further, but, of course, I dropped the ball once more, because I was very innocent, and so angry that I didn't measure my words. "Heh, you just admitted you are in love him. However, he doesn't care about you. When we were at Dotta Fortress, and you climbed the guard tower, he refused to look your panties."
"What?" She seemed to be baffled, and I was pleased to see her reaction. Soon I'd learn she was baffled at my actions, not my words. "Did you peek under my skirt?"
I became instantly embarrassed, and scratched my neck. "Yes."
"Do you like to see my panties, is it?"
She was so aggressive that I didn't know what to answer. "No..." And I was about to face one of those moments when Chris really goes insane, and nothing can stop her from doing what she has in mind.
"So you want to see my panties, heh? Well, why don't you take a look at me now? I'll show you if you want."
In the darkness, I couldn't see much of her body, but I noticed that she was raising her nightgown, so I closed my eyes and begged her to stop. "Stop it, Chris!"
"No, you wanted to see my panties, so you will see my panties!" I could hear the soft rustling of her nightgown being lifted. "Do you want to see my bra too? I'll show it to you if you want. Do you want to see me naked?"
"Please, stop!" She had gone out of control again, and I didn't know what to do to stop her. They usually say redheads are wild, but I don't buy that kind of superstition. Except for Chris. She is the wildest person I've ever seen.
"Why not? Five minutes ago, you wanted me to sleep at your bed. Now you will see me naked. Isn't it what you wanted? Isn't it because you fear to die without seeing a naked woman, without having a woman?" Her way of talking was of a mad woman, and I was scared to see her acting that way. Although it was not the first time that I had seen her go in the berserk mode of insulting, I was afraid that she would never be able to recover from that fit of insanity. And the least thing I wanted to lose was my beloved Chris.
"No!" I couldn't stand it anymore, so I yelled very loudly. "No, Chris, no!"
She calmly asked me back, much to my relief. She hadn't gone insane permanently. Not yet, at least. "So why did you bring the subject?"
Cornered, I had to be honest. "I... I remembered what you have said in Hawk Talon, about the honeymoon thing. I thought you felt something too..."
I silenced, and, she didn't say anything for a while. For me, who was angry and anxious, the silence was deafening. Did she feel something for me? Would she admit that she wanted to be with me? After being bashed so much, I was in doubt if I would want her, even if she confessed an eternal crush on me. Of course, my instincts would answer yes, and I'd be carried by them. But her answer came as a strong wave that crushed the castles of sand I'd spent hours building in the air.
"Oh, Jurio, how can you be so innocent? It was just a joke."
She seemed to be so cool that I felt like crying. Yes, maybe I was really a crybaby, but it had been too much. I couldn't take any more of that. When she started laughing again, I was destroyed. Utterly destroyed. My feelings were so hurt that I could not think clearly anymore. All I wanted was to disappear, and never see her face again. And that was what I decided to do. I got out of my bed, put on my overcoat, and picked up my sword.
Laughing, Chris took a long time to notice what was happening. When she noticed that I was about to leave, she stopped laughing and asked, with an innocent tone, filled with sarcasm. "What happened, dear Jurio? Are you going out to cry? Don't worry, my dear, you can cry here. There is no one in this room that doesn't know that you are a crybaby..."
"Enough!" I interrupted her with a furious yell, while throwing my sword on the floor. I think I scared her, for she silenced immediately, and the only noise I could hear was the metal of my sword ringing. After some seconds of hesitation, I yelled again. "Enough! I'm going home! You are right, I'm just a crybaby, and I can't take it anymore! I'll go home, and to the hell with this story of pilgrimage, to the hell with the world! I just wanna go home!"
The room was in silence, not even the light night breeze could be heard. I slowly picked up my sword and opened the room's door. When I was ready to step out, doing my best to not look back, because I didn't want to give Chris the taste of seeing my eyes wet, not to perceive my hesitation in leaving. I never wanted to leave her behind, and I never considered surrendering to the evil being that wanted to destroy the world, but I never felt so humiliated in my whole life, and exactly when I was feeling insecure and needed someone to reassure me. However, I have never left that room. Suddenly, I felt something warm wrapping around my waist.
"Please, Jurio, don't go."
I was infuriated and fought the urge to push Chris violently. "What is it?"
"Don't go... there is no one like you..." She embraced me and rested her chin lightly on my back. Her voice was sweet, and her embrace seemed to be filled with true love and compassion. It also felt a bit awkward, and I decided to turn back and face my companion, who had suddenly changed completely, and became the sweet and caring girl I loved. "I can't go on without you."
She said that so sweetly that it melted my heart. Her countenance was lovely, and, despite being naturally pretty, I've never seen her look so beautiful than in that moment. However, I had noticed something awkward in her embrace and I only confirmed my suspicions that she was really crazy. She had really taken out her nightgown, and she was wearing only her underwear. She looked terrific in underwear, I have to admit. It was enough to spark my inner flame immediately. I was mystified; her words were somewhat ambiguous, and I, obviously, hoped that she meant what she didn't meant.
"You were always by my side, Jurio. You are my best friend... Please, stay with us... The world needs you more than everybody else... I know you are no coward. Please, stay with me..." Her sweet plead, in paused sentences, was enough to make me choose to stay. She was right, I was no coward. I've faced great dangers, great opponents, and it would not be the usual playful provocation of my best friend that would make me surrender to the evil forces, and leave the whole world at their mercy. She may have exaggerated, but I should know better that, though insane, Chris is harmless. She is surely good-hearted, and holds my friendship to her as sacred. Besides, how could I say no to such an attractive woman only in lingerie, pleading me to stay?
"Forgive me, Chris..." I dropped my sword once more and embraced her, as she rested her chin in my chest. I felt her sincere affection for me, something so pure that it seemed holy. The look in her eye and her smile were the sweetest things in this whole world. And I admit that, at that short instant, we were deeply connected. Maybe it had happened just that once, but I was there only for her, and she was there only for me.
But it was not meant to last. As I wrapped her soft and warm body in my arms, my hand touched the hook of her bra by accident, and she immediately stared at me with her usual angry expression, thinking I was trying to take it off. I retracted my arms and apologized immediately. "Sorry, I didn't mean..." and scratched my neck. She was so lovely when she was angry that I admit many times I wanted to irritate her on purpose. The only thing that held me back was her insanity, which caused situations escalating to absurd degrees of madness, like the one we were living in that chilly night.
Seeing the sincerity in my face, she smiled sweetly at me and gently kissed my cheek. "I know, my dear friend. Don't ever forget you are my best friend, Jurio." Then, she released me from her comfortable embrace and headed back to her bed. "Let's get some rest. Tomorrow we will have a full day."
I was still embarrassed, and agreed with her. "Yes, Chris, you are right." I stayed there, looking Chris go back to her bed only in underwear. Although she looked fabulous, it was like something had happened, and I was not disturbed by the sight. It was only my beloved friend walking in front of me. The fiery redhead that I loved and that I'll always love. The insane girl who will always be my best friend.
As I walked back to my bed, I asked her "Let's forget about this night, erase all this nonsense from our minds, and forget that it had happened."
Much to my awe, she disagreed. "No, Jurio, we shall not do that."
I was baffled. I didn't want to start it all over again. "Why? Do you still want to hold some grudge?"
"No, I don't hold any grudge about what has been said and done today." Her answer made me feel relieved, but her unusual serious tone made me feel more anxious. I don't think I've ever heard her talk so seriously in my life, and, because I didn't understand her message at first, it made me feel frightened, as she added. "However, I think we should never forget what happened today. Exactly the opposite, we should use all our strength to make sure we never forget what had just happened."
"Why? I can't see what benefit this quarrel could bring to us. It can only poison our friendship if one of us brings back these same subjects when arguing in the future."
"But, Jurio, can't you see it is a statement for the future of my love for you and your love for me? Can't you see that what happened here only strengthened the bond that links you and me? Can't you realize that this night only served to prove that I can't go on without your affection and you can't go on without mine? That our friendship is the thing we both most treasure in our lives? That it is what made us come up this far, even with all the world working against us? Two fragile and innocent teenagers overcoming all the hardships we had to face and coming out unscathed. Do you think it is luck or providence of fate? No, Jurio, we only managed to arrive where we are because of our friendship, because you stood by my side and I stood by your side. And what happened today only solidified this friendship, preparing us for what we will face tomorrow. And, in the future, if everything happens to you or I that lead us to question our friendship, we just need to remember this day to understand that nothing is stronger than this bond that will tie us forever."
I was so impressive by the depth of her words that I let her say anything she wanted. If she had said among her words that I was a crybaby, and then asked me if I agreed with what she had said, I would certainly agree. Because I've never heard such a beautiful thing in my life, and it reflected exactly how I was feeling, proving that our connection was that strong. I just babbled, "Yes, you are right." Nothing else was needed to say.
Then I lay on my bed, to try to catch some sleep before the day broke, for I knew I needed to be feeling well to face the greatest challenge of my life. Before falling asleep, I noticed that Chris had his left arm stretched towards me. I stretched my right arm and he held hands for a moment. None of us said anything, but she said so much in silence then that all doubts I could have towards her were answered. When we finally released our hands, I embarked swiftly into the dreams realm, because my conscience was clear. I was feeling light as a feather, ready to fulfill my destiny and fight for saving Tiraswell, together with my beloved friend Chris. And the rest is history, as you know well.