This chapter has now been rewritten for the enjoyment of its readers.
Church disregarded the vague voice that called out to him and rolled onto his back, trying to stay asleep and ignore whoever was trying to awaken him.
Church's eyes remained closed as he furrowed his brow and muttered a reply to the anonymous voice. "…ugh, go away…"
"Church, wake up!"
Church bolted upright as the soft, distinctly male voice suddenly bellowed at him in annoyance. Before the flailing soldier could say anything in response, his opened eyes noticed his surroundings in surprise. He was surrounded by darkness and strange stellar constellations, and unusual obsidian pillars floated all around him. Looking down at his feet, Church realized that he was floating as well.
"Whoa!" Was all he could say as he reached his arms out for the nearest floating pillar and clutched onto it, out of fear that he would fall into the space-like abyss below him.
"W-where am I?!"
He had uttered the question to himself, but Church received an answer anyway.
"That is unimportant. What is important right now is what I have to tell you. Listen."
Church looked in all directions for the speaker of the calm and serene male voice, but he couldn't see anyone. "Who are you? Or where are you, more importantly?"
He was answered by a deep and gentle voice. "This is the voice of God…"
Rumbling laughter cascaded into Church's ear from every direction. "No. That was a joke. My name is Daedalus."
Church cocked an incredulous eyebrow, surprised and somewhat worried that an invisible man in his head was pranking him in some unknown dimension. "Dae…dalus? What kind of name is that?"
The unseen orator humphed. "Well, what kind of name is Church? That's the name of a congregation or a building, not a person. Maybe if your name was Churchill, like Winston Churchill, it would make sense, but your name is just Church. So what kind of name is that?"
Church frowned. "Mmm… Touché. Wait… how do you know about Winston Churchill? He's-"
"The Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War Two? Yes he was: I'm surprised you care to remember history at all, after NOVA and all."
"But how do you know all of this? That history is from my world…"
The voice uttered its rumbling laugh once again. "That it is. But then again, I know a great many things about your world. I'd have to, since I'm the one who brought you here."
"Brought me? What do you mean?"
The voice gained a drawling tone as it began its response. "You are Jacob Church, age twenty-one, born in Berlin, Germany, but raised by your parents in the United States of America. When you were seven, your parents were both killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, after which you were taken into foster care because you had no close relatives to care for you. Your cousin, Mission, came to live with you soon after, and you two have been as close as blood siblings ever since."
Church was at a loss for words. "T-that's…"
"At age fourteen, you and your pseudo-sister were recruited by The Legion, an experimental military cell that disregarded age and coveted your natural sharpshooting gift. You met your best friend, Kyle, at the training camp, and have had a deep friendship ever since. You and your sister both performed superbly in the Legion for the next four years, until an unexpected and catastrophic series of core flares from the center of your planet covered the surface in radiation and destroyed the world as you knew it. For two years, you and your sister survived in the new irradiated world, until the lead surviving scientists and engineers from around the planet completed New Eden, a safe cocoon from the devastated world below that houses the last vestiges of humanity. That is who you are, yes?"
Church nodded, astounded by this stranger's knowledge of his life. "Y-yeah…"
"Excellent! With the way you were behaving, I was starting to think I had summoned the wrong person! That's a relief!"
Church scratched his head while holding onto the floating obsidian pillar with the other. "Well obviously you did, 'cause I didn't get the memo about being 'summoned' anywhere."
More rumbling laughter echoed throughout the empty dimension. Apparently this invisible being laughed a lot. "Of course you didn't 'get the memo'! Do you have any idea how much energy it took to bring you here? Five hundred years of the eight centuries I spent gathering it, at least! Actually talking to you across dimensions would have sucked me dry. Luckily your mission in Greenland provided the perfect opportunity to bring you here, as-"
Church cut off the voice upon hearing that. "Provided the opportunity?! Are you saying that you orchestrated that whole situation?! My sister could be-!"
Daedalus overpowered Church's outrage with his incredibly loud voice. "Calm down, Church. Your sister and squad are both completely unharmed. I protected them from the explosion that served as the portal to bring you here."
Church grumbled aloud. "Well nice job protecting me: I remember having a hole ripped in my side by flaming shrapnel, but apparently that doesn't count as something I need to be protected from."
Daedalus sounded slightly offended. "Hey, I did my best! There was a lot of shrapnel, and I protected your sister and your teammates! Isn't that enough? I have been shielding you during your journey ever since you arrived."
"Shielding me?" Church said incredulously. "Do you know how many times I've been beaten to a pulp in the last two months? How many people have tried to kill me? And what about that rock-slide? How'd you protect me from that?!"
Daedalus laughed once again: it was starting to get incredibly annoying. "Well, actually I caused that rockslide, so that doesn't really count…"
"You caused it!?"
The mysterious voice responded cheerily. He sounded like some crazy, eccentric old man. "Yes, but I did protect you from the ensuing carnage. Besides, if I hadn't done it, you would have never met your pointy-eared friends, now would you?"
Church knew that was probably true. "So you nearly killed me just so I could make some friends?"
Another booming roar of laughter. "I suppose I did, didn't I? But I think you're OK with it. I already know you miss them, and would gladly fall off of another cliff if it meant you could see them again."
Daedalus' voice lowered to a softer tone. "All three of them are fine, you know. Tired, stressed, and sad, but fine. And you'll see them again: I plan on it."
Church laughed sarcastically in response. "Oh, you plan on it? Tell me, oh grand designer, was it part of your plan for me to ruin their lives? I basically got them exiled from their own home…"
The invisible orator sighed. "Yes, you did. And no, I didn't want that to happen. I did want them to leave the forest, but not because of something like what happened. However, you meeting them was no accident: you will need their strength and their friendship in the future. The same goes for your current companions."
Church responded venomously. "Oh, you want me to screw everything up for them too? And what's your grand plan for that?"
Daedalus sounded slightly irritated and even a little angry as he countered Church's negative reply. "Some sacrifices will be necessary in the days to come. For if they are not offered to fate, this whole continent, and all of its people, will be doomed to a fate worse than death. I have brought you here because you have a special ability few men possess. With your help, the future can be molded into a happier time for everyone; including Airi, Melona, your elven friends, and many others you have yet to meet."
Church smirked. "Yeah? What special ability do I have, good sir? Please, do explain."
Daedalus sighed. Did he have to explain everything to this mortal? "Heart. That is the ability that you have. Kindness, caring, concern for your fellow man: qualities of a pure soul if ever there was one."
The sniper answered with a bitter laugh. "Pure soul? Do you have any idea how many people I've killed?"
"I do. But were they innocent people, or wicked villains that threatened your friends, family, and countrymen? You slew your enemies for the sake of the ones you loved. You risked your life to protect those you cared about. That is not evil, wicked, or impure. That is courageous, determined, and caring."
Church said nothing in reply. Although he hated to admit it, he liked to hear himself spoken well of like this. "Not all conflict is immoral, you know. Sometimes, conflict is inevitable. As long as you fight for the right reasons, as you do, then you have no reason to degrade yourself over what you do. You have a special agenda Church: one that I have summoned you here for."
Church cocked an eyebrow, still holding onto the pillar that made him feel secure in this limbo world. "And what is this agenda? What do you want from me?'
Daedalus laughed once again, but it was softer and sounded more tiresome than it had before. "For that answer you must wait. I grow tired, as it costs me much energy to hold this link with you from where I am. Suffice to say that you are here to protect the weak, and mold a better future for those you will come to love."
Church wanted to say something, as he knew that this conversation was coming to a close. He had to learn more. "H-hold on! I don't understand!"
There was another chorus of rumbling laughter, more jolly and energized than previously. "Of course you don't! But worry not, Church. I will explain everything to you in good time, when I know you are ready."
"How will you know when I'm ready? What makes me ready?"
As Daedalus made his final response, Church could hear his voice growing weaker, as if he were moving farther away. "I will know. Now if I'm not mistaken, someone is waiting for you back in the wakeful world. Don't keep her waiting!"
That was the last Church heard from the mysterious voice before the world around him started to crumble. The pillars began disintegrating, and the air around him was literally cracking, causing a deafening cascade of sound all around him. It took only a split second for everything to collapse, smothering him in darkness.
Church jolted into wakefulness and wrapped his arms around the nearest object, hoping it was that obsidian pillar that he had been clinging to a few moments ago. As he buried his face into something soft and strangely gelatinous feeling, he realized what he was holding onto was certainly not a hard, floating pillar.
As he heard the giggle that emanated from his unfortunate (Or perhaps she thought otherwise?) victim, Church turned his face away from what he had buried it into and looked up at Melona, who was grinning slyly.
"You know Church: I'm starting to think that you just pretend to sleep until I'm close to you just so you can shove your face in lewd places. That's not true, is it?"
Church blushed and removed his face from where he had accidentally stuck it upon waking from his fitful slumber. "Or maybe you wait until you're close enough for me to do it before waking me up, because you like using my reflexes for your entertainment?"
The pink-clad girl giggled cheerily once again. "Your reflexes? So you're a subconscious pervert then, huh?"
Saying nothing to defend himself, Church merely rolled his eyes at Melona's merciless teasing. In doing so, he spotted Airi off to his left, sitting on a large stump that probably used to be a tree similar to the ones back in Syrinidell. She looked like a zombie, which was probably the result of a lack of sleep, and not some obscure virus that conspiracy theorists back at home always claimed was infecting New Eden.
Airi rested her chin on her hand, and her usually vibrant emerald eyes, now a murky, glazed over green, stared aimlessly into space. It irritated Church to no extent that he knew something was wrong with her, and yet he could do nothing about it because Airi refused to tell him what it was. Didn't she trust him?
"Worried about her?"
Church turned to face Melona, who had pulled his attention away from Airi's condition. "Of course I am. I just shoved my face into your tits and she didn't even throw a displeased glance over here. That's an obvious sign that something is wrong."
Melona smiled at the humorous comment, but the seriousness of the subject kept her from laughing. "Yeah… I'm sure she's thinking about things that aren't exactly pleasant. Airi's usually in a pretty good mood, but when she gets depressed, she gets really depressed. She's totally out of it with that 'doom and gloom and we're all gonna die anyway' attitude."
Church frowned. "But why? She's been like this ever since we left the forest. Did something happen while we were separated? Something that made her like this?"
Melona scratched her head nonchalantly, but the look on her face had tension written all over it. "Not exactly…"
"So there is something! What is it?"
Melona smiled at him again, but it wasn't the cheery kind or even the creepy kind he had come to dislike: it was the apologetic kind that meant someone was lying to your face.
"Well maybe she just misses all of the trees. Airi's one of those people that really likes nature, you know?"
He scowled at her. "Tell me the truth, Melona. I'm not stupid."
Melona sighed. "Look, what's bothering Airi is a personal thing… and if she doesn't wanna tell you, I'm not going to either."
Church replied bitterly. "If it's so personal, how come you know about it?"
"Whoa, hey! What's that supposed to mean?"
Church continued. "Well I seem to be the only person left out of things in our little band of musketeers. Where are we going, guys? Oh what, it's a secret? Where are you from? Oh, you won't tell me that either? What's wrong with Airi? Whoops, it's personal, go figure! You two never tell me anything! Why is that, Melona?"
The pinkette stumbled to find a suitable response. "W-well…"
Church angrily pushed for an answer. "No answer huh? C'mon Melona, I'm just asking why! How hard can that be?"
"Why don't you two trust me?!"
"Shut up!" Melona exploded angrily.
Church quieted down, disappointed in himself for pushing Melona so far, but only slightly.
After a few moments spent calming herself, Melona continued. "If you're so damn curious, just go ask her yourself! But if she hurts your feelings, or tells you something you don't want to hear, don't say I didn't warn you!"
At that the angry girl stormed off, and Church was left alone in the copse of trees that the trio of stressed friends had made camp in. He knew he was alone because he had just now noticed that Airi had disappeared during the argument between him and Melona. He sighed and face-palmed himself: he was only making things worse than they already were. Now he had to confront Airi and mend his relationship with Melona, which he had done a fine job of mucking up just now.
However, he figured Melona needed some time to simmer down, so he would deal with her later. Church rose to his feet, and began to search for Airi, who he had decided was going to tell him what was wrong no matter what. Wrapped up in all of his thoughts about his two friends, Church's dream with Daedalus was all but forgotten.
Airi leaned against one of the trees that made up this small copse on the edge of the grassy plains she and her friends had covered over the past few days. She briefly wondered if Church had done something similar for a large portion of the month he had spent in the forest. It was a fleeting distraction however, and her thoughts quickly returned to brooding on her situation with Master, Church, and herself. She still didn't understand why she was allowing him to get so close to her. She should have had more self-control...
In the mire of sadness and depression that she was buried in, she didn't hear the approaching footsteps behind her until it was too late to hide from them. And unfortunately, it wasn't Melona, because these footsteps didn't have the light footfalls that usually accompanied hers.
Airi rose to her feet to get ready to deflect all of Church's petty questions about her thoughts. Hopefully she could convince him that she wanted to be left alone with relative ease. As his footsteps halted a few feet away from her, Airi turned to face her worried companion.
"I don't want to talk about this right now, Church."
"When will you ever?"
Airi sighed. "I don't know, but it isn't now."
"You're only saying that to dissuade me. You don't really plan on ever telling me, do you?"
"Not really, no. So why don't you stop worrying about it already?"
Church scowled at her. "Just stop worrying about it? You're half out of it most of the day, you've hardly spoken a word since we left the forest, and damn if it doesn't look like you're depressed twenty-four seven! How can you expect me to just shrug that off, Airi? I'm worried about you."
To hear that he was worried actually pleased Airi, but she nevertheless turned her head away from his critical stare as she answered. "I...I don't want to talk about this right now…"
"I don't care if you want to or not."
His answer earned Church an incredulous glare from Airi. That was unbeliavebly rude of him. In the short time she had known him, Church was usually much more tactful.
If Airi's now irritable glare did anything to dissuade Church from continuing, it wasn't obvious.
"Look, maybe you want to keep this to yourself and bottle it up: maybe that's what you want. But what people want isn't always what's best for them. So for this, this one situation, I don't care what you want, Airi, so much as I just care about you. I don't know what's bothering you, but I can tell that it's something serious. Don't you trust me enough to at least tell me about it?"
Church's voice exuded a tone of great sadness, and his last remark made Airi suddenly realize that her silence had been inadvertently hurting Church because he thought she didn't trust him. That hadn't been her intention, but it had clearly happened anyway. She knew she had to fix this, but it would take several embarrassing moments between the two of them.
Besides, concern was one thing, but to care enough about someone that you'd be willing to make them angry at you because of it... it made her happy. As much as she wanted to deny it, Church's words had made Airi really happy.
"Do you really mean that, Church? Is the reason you're so persistent about this…because you care about me?"
Church scratched the back of his head, a subconscious mannerism whenever he was embarrassed. "Y-yeah, of course. I mean, we're friends… aren't we? Shouldn't we look out for each other?"
Airi smiled slightly. Every time she convinced herself that she could cut all ties with this man without remorse, he manged to endear himself to her all over again. She could hardly believe he wasn't doing it on purpose. "Yes… yes we should. But even so…"
Church furrowed his brow at hearing her say that. "Even so what?"
Airi sighed again, and then took a few steps forward to wrap Church in a hug. His face flushed red as she did so, and he stammered to say something, but Airi cut him off before he could.
"Do you trust me Church? You claim to see me as a friend, but do you think I view you the same way?"
He gave it a moment of brief thought. After all she had done for him, how could he not? "…Yes. Of course I do."
His answer reassuring her, Airi looked into his blue eyes, and she thought about how alluring the deep color was: it reminded her of the ocean, although she had only seen that once before. "Then please try to understand this. No matter how much I do or don't trust you, and no matter how good of friends we may be or may become… there are just some things I can't tell you."
She cut him off before he could protest. "Church, please. I know that you're worried about me: and I'm really glad that you are. You don't know how happy it makes me just to know that you care enough to get angry with me. Besides, even if there are some things I can't tell you, I want you to know that I will never hide something from you if it puts you in danger."
Church stared back into Airi's emerald eyes as he answered, only able to avoid dwelling on how beautiful they were due to the serious conversation at hand. "But I'm not worried about my well-being, Airi. I'm worried about yours."
Airi smiled sadly. She was sad because she had to keep secrets from this man, but she was also happy that Church cared for her at least this much. "I know. But even so, I still can't tell you."
"But I want you to know that it's not because I don't trust you. It's for your own protection. You're... one of the few people I would call my friend at this point in my life, so please allow me this much."
Church nodded, embarrassment written all over his face. Airi didn't want an awkward silence to ensue now, so she made a jest to lighten the situation.
"And if you ever wake up like you did this morning when I come to get you, I won't react as merrily as Melona did."
The two of them chuckled together, even though Church was sure that Airi was not entirely kidding. But the moment was cut short when Airi's knees buckled and she collapsed into Church's arms.
"Whoa, Airi, what was that? Are you alright?"
Airi struggled to get back on her feet, blushing furiously the whole time. "I-I'm fine! It's nothing!"
Church helped her regain her balance before giving her a sarcastic look. "So 'nothing' made you fall over like that?"
Airi turned her eyes away from him. "T-this is one of those things I can't tell you about…"
Church looked down to the ground in irritation, but he said nothing. Airi on the other hand, was wondering just how much longer she was going to last without replenishing her energy. Considering that she was in Church's company at the moment, she was focusing what little she had left into keeping her clothes solid. Melona's suggestion from the forest came back to her, and as much as she hated to consider it, Airi realized she was in dire straits. If she didn't gather some life force very soon, she risked fading from the physical plane.
Inwardly, Airi berated herself for doing what she was about to do, but she knew she had no choice. "If you could do a really big favor for me, even if it was… a little harmful for you, would you do it?"
Church didn't even spare a moment to think about it. "Of course I would. Why?"
Airi knew that with the details, Church would probably not agree so readily, but she needed life force and she also needed to keep her secrets. The redheaded girl reluctantly leaned forward and planted her lips on the cheek of the rather fortunate guy in front of her, and held it for a few seconds. Of course he didn't know it, but the wraith was draining the substantial amount of life force she would need from Church to last her the next few days.
To her own surprise, Airi found that the energy she took from Church felt very different from any she had ever experienced before. She couldn't actually 'taste' it since she wasn't performing the procedure by mouth, but even so Airi could still feel the pleasant difference in this life force and any other she had ever taken. Of course, the flavor and feel of one's life force was determined by the emotions they were having, but Airi was only used to despair, fear, hatred and other negative emotions. After all, no one was happy to be drained... but Church didn't know, so he was probably feeling some positive emotion at the moment. She couldn't really identify what emotion that might have been, but it didn't take Airi very long to decide that she liked it. Even more than any of the normal emotions she faced under these circumstances.
When she finally broke away from the contact, she noticed the red that had climbed all the way to Church's ears as he stammered to find words. The silliness of his look made Airi giggle.
"W-w-what was that for!?"
The maid grinned at him slyly. "Are you complaining?"
"N-no! B-but still…"
Airi quickly made up a lie to diffuse the situation, but it wiped the grin off her face knowing that she was lying to Church once again. After the past few days, lying to him wasn't so easy to ignore. "It was just a little thank you for caring so much. Would you prefer a handshake next time instead?"
Church shook his head, hardly noticing the sudden fatigue he was feeling that had not been present before all of this. "N-no, t-this is fine! Wait…n-next time?!"
Airi began to retreat in the general direction of the camp, waving at him as she went. "Don't forget to go talk to Melona too. But do it tomorrow: it'll be safer that way."
Church said nothing in reply as Airi turned her back on him, but she knew that Church would somehow fix his situation with Melona. Based off of the conversation she had just shared with him, Airi had discovered that Church had a special talent when it came to people. And because of it, she would spend her next few days quite a bit more cheerfully.
Minor changes throughout this chapter, hardly worth mentioning.