I know it's only been a few days, but the last chapter didn't get as much attention as I had hoped, seeing as it is a really big event and had the first signs of serious romance. I'm kind of disappointed in that regard, but I guess there is no helping it; I just thought more people would have something to say about it. Well, that's beside the point: I have a relatively minor question for you. I didn't originally plan on making any romantic arcs with one of the Vance sisters, but someone brought up the fact that they would like that. The only problem is that I really hate both Leina and Claudette, so only Elena would be a viable option (She'd be more fun to write about anyway). So the gist of it is this; would you like me to add her as a viable relationship, even if it is not romantic per se, or could you really care less?
And a special thanks to Vandenbz for assisting me in both grammatical correctness as well as story development.
"Hurry up, he's over here!"
Church awoke to the sound of a voice that he happily recognized. He pushed himself up into a sitting position with his one good arm, looking towards the source of the noise, and all the while noticing Alleyne's absence.
He didn't have time to think about his final moments with her though. All of his attention was drawn to the two women who were rapidly approaching the lakeside to get to him. He didn't even have time to utter a word of greeting as Melona tackled him to the ground. Surprisingly, despite the force she had put behind it, the impact had been really soft: sort of like Jell-O.
"Whew! You dummy, we thought you had gotten lost all over again! Good thing you didn't though; Airi might not have come for you twice."
Church just grinned and did his best to hug the peculiar girl that pinned him to the ground. His smile only widened as he saw Airi walk up from behind the two of them, a cheery grin plastered on her face. Melona, noticing the arrival of her slower comrade, pushed herself off of Church's body, and stepped out of the way as Airi offered her arm to help up the wounded man they had worked so hard to rescue.
But as Church clasped Airi's forearm to help himself stand, her grin quickly turned to a pained grimace, and he finally noticed her gruesome injury.
"A-Airi! Your arm... what happened?"
The redheaded woman looked down at her right arm with a look of disbelief; almost as if the bloody gash that marred her usually flawless skin surprised her as much as it did Church.
Disregarding his pain, Church quickly got to his feet so that he could examine the injury. He gingerly clutched her arm at the elbow and wrist to avoid touching the wound. Airi resisted for a brief moment, but quickly gave up her efforts and allowed Church to worry about her. The look on her face said that she was extremely tired.
With the best analysis that he could make without proper equipment, Church decided that it wasn't fatal and probably wouldn't scar, but there would be a good chance of infection if it wasn't treated. Coming to this conclusion, he remembered a little gift Alleyne had given him before his brutal fight with Echidna. Reaching his bruised arm behind his back, he withdrew a roll of linen bandages from his rear pocket. Alleyne had told him that they were sterile, although how she would do that without modern medicine was beyond him.
Seeing the item he had grabbed caused Airi to frown and tug her arm away from Church once more, but his firm grip held her in place, and she gave up the futile resistance. Church noted that she had yet to say a single word; her exhaustion must've been mental as well. Church pushed the thought from his mind as he contemplated how to best treat her wound.
He muttered to himself as he tore off as much of the bandage as he would need. "Man, how am I going to clean this thing?"
Melona must've heard him, and offered an idea that was both useless and ridiculous. "Why not wash it in the lake?"
Church noticed Airi considering it, and he shook his head and pushed her away from the lake edge. "No, very bad idea. Who knows what kind of pathogens are in that water? It'd be better for me to just wipe it down with the bandages..."
Melona put a finger on her chin and made a questioning face. "What's a... pathogen?"
"It's like a germ."
The look of confusion on the girl's face intensified. "What's a germ?"
Church shook his head as he began dabbing at Airi's wound with a wad of sterile bandages, causing the woman he was treating to flinch in pain whenever he touched her. "Never mind. It's not really important."
Taking note of a lack of certain materials, Church began to move off towards one of the many trees where he knew he could find it. Motioning to the two girls, he said, "Wait here, I'll be back in a few minutes."
Church, having temporarily left their side, left the two servants alone together. Melona took the opportunity to question Airi about her condition.
"Airi, what's up with your arm? Shouldn't that have healed by now?"
Airi shook her head from side to side lethargically. "I... don't have enough energy... to heal it."
Melona cocked an eyebrow at her, as if that was a stupid explanation. "Well then go get some! You do it all the time."
Her comment only garnered her a look of annoyance from the weary wraith. "It's not that... simple."
"Of course it is! You can just take some from Church. He's-"
This time Airi's response came with more energy. "No! Absolutely not! I... I wouldn't do that to him. Not... not to him..."
Melona frowned. "I don't see what the problem is; you don't have to take a lot. Besides, you've said before that life force regenerates, so what harm is it gonna do?"
Airi scowled at her friend. "I WILL NOT do that to him; period. I... I want him to stay away from Master and all things related to her as much as possible. He deserves better than that."
"But what if she commands it? What if she orders you to bring him to her?"
Airi's eyes widened in shock as she realized what a serious possibility that was. Under the obedience spell, she would have no choice but to do as she was told...
"She can't make a command like that if she doesn't know about him, Melona."
Melona gave her a questioning look. "Are you really doing this, Airi? You, so fanatically loyal, is trying to circumvent your duties as a loyal servant? Aren't you supposed to report everything?"
Airi looked down at the ground, agitation and uncertainty written all over her face. "Please, Melona, stop it. I don't... I can't... I don't know what to do. Just... leave it, alright?"
Seeing Church returning to the two of them, Melona took the last few moments of privacy to make a serious remark. "If you want to keep him away from her, Airi, then eventually you'll have to keep him away from us."
Airi made no response, either because she was afraid of Church hearing in his now close proximity, or simply because she had no reply to give.
Church beamed as he exited the rim of trees that signaled the outskirts of the gargantuan forest that had been his home for nearly a month. Sure, he had many good memories of it and had become quite fond of the place, but in all honesty, he was sick of all the trees. Which was why what was before him made him smile so.
His eyes were met with hilly, rolling plains of grass, the blades shifting to and fro in the winds that coursed through them. A clear blue sky and fluffy white clouds above, without any treetops to obscure its magnificence, welcomed him back to the outside world. Coming up from behind him, Melona did a fine job of enthusiastically putting his thoughts into words.
"Woohoo! No more trees! Finally!"
The excited girl ran out to the top of the hill that the trio of companions stood on and tossed herself down the hill, rolling down it with a passion only an over-exaggerating girl like herself could muster. Airi said nothing as she came to stand next to Church and watch their mutual friend frolic in the fresh grass.
She had spoken very little since being reunited with Church and heading for the forest's edge: Church had, at first, believed it was because her arm pained her, but that had become an unlikely possibility. In all of the hours since he had treated her injury, Airi had shown little to no signs of discomfort, and had only stared at the ground with a furrowed brow, as though she were brooding over a distasteful thought. He had also noticed that her complexion was much paler than he remembered. She had a sort of pallid look about her that pointed to sickness; yet nothing had happened to show any signs of less than optimal health.
Needless to say, her condition worried Church to no small extent. Her usual personality was buried under the muck of somber and introverted thoughts, and Church would have given anything to find out what they were.
The woman he questioned made no response, but instead merely shifted her dreary gaze to Church, to show that she was listening. Her injured arm, wrapped in medicinal leaves that Alleyne had shown him as well as the bandages she had provided for him, hung limply at her side, apparently not causing her any discomfort.
"Are you alright? You've been acting a little strange; is it your arm?"
Her response came slowly. "...no."
"Well then what's wrong?"
Church cocked an eyebrow at her, and examined her more closely. The only thing he could notice was that her eyes seemed to lack focus. Yes, she was looking in his direction, but she wasn't looking at him. It was worrisome, to say the least.
"So then everything's okay? You're not hurting anywhere, or feeling sick or something?"
Church sighed. He obviously wasn't going to get Airi to admit to him what was bothering her. So instead he took a step forward and hugged the girl tenderly.
"Okay then. But if something is wrong, you have to tell me, alright?"
A bit of focus returned to her gaze as Airi blushed a little and looked away from the man that hugged her. "I-I'm fine... please...let go."
Church stepped back from her, afraid that he had overstepped his boundaries. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."
Airi just shook her head forlornly, turning away from Church and then following Melona down the grassy hill. Church followed her with his eyes, watching the back of someone who was clearly struggling with something. He wanted to help her, but she wouldn't let him get close enough to figure out the actual problem.
He turned his gaze back to the forest behind him, overcome by sadness. Back there were his other friends, ones who had helped and protected him for over month. He even counted Echidna among them now, despite the many sore bruises she had left him with. And Nowa, who he hadn't gotten the chance to say a proper goodbye to, was back there as well. She had helped him through some tight spots, her encouraging words carrying him onward when he needed it.
And Alleyne... he wasn't sure how he felt about her. Their last moments together had been intimate, and he wasn't sure what to make of it. His feelings right now were a confused jumble of things; old friends, new friends, the past, the future, Airi and Alleyne... He didn't know what to make sense of first. All he knew was that he had left Alleyne with a promise he may not be able to keep. And for some reason, the thought of breaking his promise to that woman stabbed him in the heart like a fiery dagger.
Nanael and Hachiel hovered over the scene below them, one indifferent to the situation and the other very uncomfortable with it.
"Who would've thought... is that man in league with the Swamp Witch?"
Nanael yawned, faking exhaustion from her fight many hours prior. "More like another of her stupid monkey servants."
Hachiel looked at her friend incredulously. "Nanael, do you not understand how serious this is? If that man is with the Swamp Witch, then it is highly likely that those elves are too! And now he's protected by those two... how are we supposed to question him now?"
Nanael smirked at her. "Well according to you, you had him in your grasp earlier. So how did things turn out like this?"
Hachiel's face flushed, having been caught in a mistake. "T-they were having a very personal moment! I didn't want to be rude!"
Nanael sighed. "And look where that got us! Now we have to follow them to who knows where! Aw... I'm sick of this assignment already..."
Hachiel folded her arms as she berated her friend. "Geez, Nanael, you're so lazy! Keep this up and you'll be in the Netherworld in no time..."
Nanael's countenance turned somber at the mention of such an outcome. "That's not funny, Hachi..."
"Sorry. I didn't mean it like that. You know I won't let that happen to you, Nanael. But I need your help to make it happen."
Nanael put on a face of confidence and raised her fist into the air. "Yeah! Alright then, let's do this! C'mon, let's go take them on right now!"
It amazed Hachiel how quickly Nanael's mood could change. Needless to say, it took all of her strength to restrain her eager companion.
So there we are, a short chapter to counteract the previous long one. Don't forget the question mentioned above!