It Is What It Is

Chapter 9

Disclaimer: I do not own Soul Eater or any of its characters.

For a long while all Kid could feel was the sharp coldness that had enveloped both inside and outside his body. The ocean landscape had turned into a dark void, but it still felt as if he were still underwater. The fabric of his clothes and strands of hair continued to drift and shift every now and then. Perhaps he was still in that strange ocean environment and had merely descended further down into its depths. He lost track of time and stopped paying attention long ago, but the change had likely happened not too long after that strange song had somehow invoked those thoughts to start tumbling into his mind.

The Madness pulsed through him, and despite that one moment of weakness, he resisted it. A small part of him still retained some sanity and was working hard to repel the negative thoughts that bit and snapped at his weakened mind and soul. Instead he tried to find the source of the Madness. To follow the threads and see where it led him. If he were to be consumed, then he at least wanted to know how. It also irritated him a bit since this would be the second time where he found himself in such a situation.

However instead of being trapped in a book, he was trapped somewhere far worse—inside himself. It had taken him some time to reconnect his scattered thoughts, but he was able to figure out at least that much. What other logical explanation was there? They had fallen into the ocean and he blacked out. It would also help explain why his subconscious had planted him inside an ocean environment. Perhaps the visions he saw were just that—visions.

Souls…millions of souls…

But that was still not right—there was something else affecting him. It was either within his self or some external force, but there was something. Otherwise why had he seen such strange images? He could barely remember all of what he saw, but he could remember those souls so clearly. This "something" was likely the cause, and it was this "something" he was trying to find.

There was a risk to this, however. He knew that he had the power of Madness within him, the one that the Old One had granted both him and Black*Star back in the Book of Eibon, and it could be this that he was sensing. Although he had a tight control over it, if he was not careful it could overtake him.

Just like with the battle with the bat.

So the further he went, the more powerful the Madness became and several times he had to pull back. The negative thoughts and images would once again flood his mind and there would be that painful tightening in his chest. But no, that was not it. The threads were leading him somewhere else. There were certainly a few connected to the source he had within him—perhaps it was even drawing some of its strength from there. But it was not the center he was looking for. It was still further somewhere else. But where? And was it even inside him? He was beginning to wonder whether he should stop trying when he thought he heard something.

Or rather, felt something.

Clink, clink, clink.

It was like a vibration of sound that tugged at one of the invisible threads he felt wrapped around him. But this was a different thread. Looking down at his right hand he saw the faint shimmer of light green. At first he thought it really was some kind of thread, but closer inspection revealed it to be a thin trail of smoke. His eyes followed the trail and in the far distance he could see something he had not seen before: a small spot of light the size of the tip of a tiny needle.

Someone was trying to reach him.

Clink, clink, clink.

As he tried to move toward it, however, some invisible force pulled him back. As he turned back, a cold blast of air hit him, the coldness stinging his face like small chips of ice crystals. Raising his right arm as a shield, he glanced away until it ended before slowly reopening his eyes and looking back forward. What he found looking back startled him.

It was distant, but he could see two orange colored spheres seeming to float in the darkness. They blacked out before appearing again, almost like—

Blinking eyes.

The two spheres slowly grew larger—or were they coming closer?—before they stopped. Again they "blinked" but when they reappeared, the two spheres had broken into hundreds of smaller spheres that formed a mosaic-like pattern. Before Kid could fully comprehend what had happened, the spheres flashed red and scattered to surround him.

A forest of eyes.

There was a tense moment as he floated there, staring into the small red spheres as he felt an emotion that was triggered only every once in a while. A feeling that went beyond being shocked or stunned.

It was fear.

Fear that he was about to be consumed by the Madness that pulsated from the red spheres as they crept inward.

Fear of what would happen after.

Fear of what he would do—of what he would become.

Death was not what he feared—at least not his own.

It was the death of others by his own hands that he feared.

The deaths of—

Hey, Kid!

He needed to get out.

But just as the thought entered his mind, he felt something warm around his wrists. The light green thread had disappeared and in its place were a pair of soft pink ones—one on his right and one on his left. Compared to the light green one, these were more solid and glowed with familiar warmth that flowed into him. A warmth that helped melt away the coldness that had started to overtake him and broke some of the bonds that held him there.

Could these really…?

Before he could finish that thought or even begin to try and answer it (even though deep down he already knew), a strange chanting broke through the silence and filled the air. Words he did not understand bounced off the spheres, making them shake and rattle, creating a new sound that made him wince at its high pitch. It was like listening to a combination of white noise and the vibrations of a tuning fork slamming into glass repeatedly.

As if angered by the sudden intrusion, the spheres gathered upon themselves, rising and cresting over like a wave. By this time Kid started to move backwards, but his movements were still sluggish and strained. He braced himself for the impact, preparing to at least try and withstand it, when he was suddenly jerked back by a force that was even greater than what had tried to keep him there.

The pink threads pulled on his wrists, and there was a moment where his body was dragged through the void like a broken rag doll. As he looked back, he watched the wave of red spheres crash down upon the spot he had just been moments before and spread out toward him like rushing water. But now the spheres had changed shape. They now had legs. How many he could not tell, but they were gaining fast.

The chase did not last long, however. The pink threads disappeared as a wall of masks appeared between him and the flooding spheres, and for a brief moment all Kid could see were the faces of the masks—black wooden masks with large hollow eyes and gaping mouths. Crude green lines curved along the sides and each had what looked like strands of hair arranged in varying styles. But then as one, the masks swiveled around to face the oncoming onslaught. He expected to hear the loud thuds of the spheres hitting the wood, but instead his eyes widened as holes appeared where the mouths were and swallowed the spheres. Instead of flowing through the holes and out the other side where he floated, the red spheres entered the gaping wide maws only to vanish immediately after.

Slowly the masks grew bigger, merging with one another with loud creaks and snaps as they did. Then the spheres disappeared completely and what had once been hundreds of small masks was now one large mask. As it turned back around to face him, this, too, started to change as a body started to grow from beneath its chin. Feet, legs, torso, hands, arms, shoulders, neck—a complete wooden body to support the wooden mask.

The hollow mouth was moving.

The chanting had continued throughout this whole ordeal, but now he could hear it coming directly from the mask's mouth.

The hollow mouth was growing.

Smoke seeped through the gaping abyss, the wispy, white tendrils curling and gathering around him. Then like ropes they snapped around him, and in the next moment he was flung into the mouth, disappearing into a sea of green.

Kid bolted upright, his eyes wide as his body heaved with each gasping breath and beads of sweat rolled down his face and neck. But when he sat up, he felt something restraining his hands. Half expecting to see them wrapped in the strange white ropes, he looked down to find himself instead staring at two familiar girls lying on either side of him. Each one gripped his hand as they…slept? Yes, they were sleeping. He could see the subtle rise and fall of their chests and his sudden movement had somehow not woken them. Not yet, at least. He could not see any immediate sign of injury and was relieved to see them safe. In fact it looked like they had a chance to get some fresh clothes—something he definitely needed as he felt his own shirt sticking to his skin. It was then that he realized they were all on sleeping mats and in a strange room.

That led to the next series of questions: where were they, what happened, and how much time had passed?

He closed his eyes for a moment to recollect his thoughts and to slow his still pounding heart and nerves. Although he could only remember bits and pieces of the events that had happened in his subconscious, it was still a jumbled and confused mess that he would have to sort through later.

After regaining most of his composure, he glanced around and took mental notes of his surroundings. It was a small room and a glance out the nearby window told him it was still night, though he was not sure if it was still the same day or not. A few candles set on a small nearby table provided the only sources of dim lighting, but it was enough for him to see that the walls were covered in masks—masks that looked a little too familiar and gave rise to a slight feeling of discomfort and suspicion. On the far left was a doorway, but rather than a door there was a curtain made by several strings of beads. Light filtered through the spaces in-between each long strand. Various other works of art hung along the walls and except for those, the room was rather bare. In fact the table was the only piece of actual furniture in the room, suggesting that the room was a spare of some kind. It was then that he caught the scent of a strange aroma.

Incense? Or are those scented candles?

It was hard to tell as the candles were large and set closest to him, thus obscuring his vision, but he thought he saw the tip of a long black stick and a faint trail of smoke. Deciding it was time for him to get up he tried to remove his hands from his weapons' surprisingly strong grips and wondered why they were even holding them to begin with. He had managed to free his left hand without waking Patti (instead she rolled over onto her other side), but he did not have such luck with Liz. When he saw her eyes flutter open and watched her shift and turn to look up at him, he just waited for her to go through what he guessed would be her reaction: shock and then a long series of yelling and scolding.

While her eyes did widen, he instead found himself almost falling backwards when the girl threw her arms around him.

"Kid!" Liz cried. "It worked! You're alive! You're really—"

"Wait—Liz—" Worked? What worked?

His mind raced as he tried to comprehend what was happening. This was not what he expected, and he was having difficulty trying to maintain his balance since Patti was somehow still sleeping like a dead log on his left. Through reflex alone did he swing his arm far enough back so as not to accidentally hit the younger girl. But he managed and let out a long breath as he just sat there, glancing down at the older sister before placing a hand on her shoulder.


His words were cut short when she pulled back and he caught a glimpse of the girl's face. He was used to seeing her upset—though those had been usually overdramatic and hardly ever a cause for concern. Although there were no tears, this, however, was different.

"You idiot!" she yelled as she punched him hard in the chest, causing him to wince. "Do you have any idea what we've gone through because of you! How worried we were?"

She was not looking at him directly. Her head was bowed and her long bangs overshadowed her face. But he knew the expression she was hiding—how she really felt. Despite her loud voice, he could hear the tremor, and when she punched him again there was less force to it compared to the first one. Her shoulder trembled underneath his hand as her fist relaxed, curled fingers resting against his chest as she continued in a more subdued voice.

"No matter what we did you wouldn't wake up and even the mermaids couldn't help…"

Her voice was trailing now and her words confused him. Mermaids? He wanted her to clarify, but he knew better than to ask that question now of all times. Instead he waited a moment before reaching down to gently grab her wrist.

"Liz," he started again for the third time. He waited a moment to see if she would look up, but when she did not his voice softened a little as he continued. "I know I made both you and Patti worried…and I'm sorry." He closed his eyes and sighed. "For everything."

For everything. At those words she looked up at him sharply and stared at him for a few moments. She knew he was going to start blaming himself for things that he never even had any control over and somehow that made her even more irritated. Her frustration must have shown on her face because she could see the look of confusion that was growing on Kid's. But before she could respond, her sister finally stirred awake and sat up.

"Mmm…hmmmm…?" Patti rubbed her eyes before blinking them open. It took a few seconds for them to focus, but when they did her eyes lit up. "Kid you're awake!" she exclaimed before she tilted her head a little. "But why is Sis sitting on your lap?"

"Huh?" the two said in unison before looking back at each other. It was then that they realized that at some point during the sudden hug and punching her body must have moved and resettled on top of his legs rather than back on the floor.

Immediately Liz felt the heat rise to her face, which was only worsened when she noticed that Kid did not seem as flustered by it like she was. She was the only one who felt self-conscious and somehow she should have expected it—it was Kid. The most he felt was just a slight feeling of awkwardness since he was not used to such close physical contact. But because it was Liz he also did not think much more about it.

"It just happened that way," Kid explained with a small sigh as he looked back at Patti. "Liz was upset, threw herself on me, and that was it."

"Don't say it like that!" Liz half shouted as all sense of that strange embarrassment disappeared in a flash and replaced by the urge to smack him. But she was soon cut off by her younger sister.

"What, no fair! I want hugs from Kid, too!" she whined.

"I didn't hug—Patti!" he yelled.

"Wait—!" Liz cried at the same time, but it was too late.

Without leaving any time to let her sister move, Patti jumped on top of both of them and with enough force to really send Kid falling backwards.

"PATTI!" Liz yelled angrily as she struggled.

"Yay, Kid's back!" Patti sang as she clung onto her flustered meister and ignored her sister's protests. "Group hug! Group hug!"

Kid just gritted his teeth as he felt the back of his head throbbing from its sudden impact with the floor before grabbing the girl's shoulder and tried to push her off. "Patti, will you quit goofing around and get off of us—"

There was a light clatter of beads as the beaded curtain that served as the door rose and fell, followed by a low whistle. "From all the yelling I thought something had happened, but looks like I need to give you all some privacy."

It truly was an interesting sight. Because of her previous body position, Liz had still been facing Kid. So when the trio fell backwards, the right side of her body was sandwiched right in-between the two. Patti had one arm around Kid's shoulder while the other clung to her sister's arm. And of course, Kid was on the bottom with one hand pushing against Patti's shoulder and the other around trapped beneath Liz's body. In short, they were a tangled mess and until Patti moved, they were stuck there.

Kid started when he heard the new voice, and with Patti still giggling and clinging to them, he could only crane his head around to see a short but robust young woman with more tattoos and piercings he thought possible. With long, dark hair and Bermuda sun tanned skin, the bright colors she wore stood out even more. In her mouth was a white stick—most likely from a lollipop—and in her arms was a fresh change of clothes that he could only assume was meant for him.

"Vera, look! Kid's awake!" Patti called out, answering the question the trapped death god was about to ask.

"Yeah, I can see that," the woman smirked as she leaned against the doorframe. "You should feel lucky having two cute girls looking after you like that."

That only earned her a haggard look that basically read, "You're joking, right?" He could hardly consider this lucky in the sense that she was probably insinuating. However he would agree that seeing them there the moment he had awoken had made him realize that he was quite fortunate for having such loyal friends and weapons at his side. But for now, all he felt was exasperation.

"Vera, could you please help us?" Liz pleaded as she tried to keep her face from touching the floor. Unfortunately this meant she had to keep her head close to Kid's neck, which was somehow worse.

"I dunno. I think you all look very comfortable, right now," the woman continued to grin. "I should get my sketchbook."

"Haha, you should draw us like this!" Patti laughed.

"This is not the time for drawing!" Kid shouted, his patience long broken. "Patti, get off. Now."

"Okaaay," the girl said with a slight pout. She held onto Kid for a few more seconds before finally releasing her hold and rolling off of them. But even then she just sat down on the ground next to him, keeping the distance between them close as a hand drifted and pinched the loose fabric of his shirt.

The moment her sister got up, Liz immediately disentangled her legs and stood up, allowing Kid to sit up right after. With a tired sigh he ran a hand through his hair in a half-hearted attempt to straighten it before looking at all of them. "Now, could someone please tell me how I can get a shower and then tell me what happened?"

A long overdue but refreshing shower and a fresh change of clothes later, Kid walked out of the rather compact bathroom and into the larger, more open den where the others waited. Although he had yet to venture through the whole house, he could make a few guesses as to how its structure was. The room he entered was circular and open. In fact it was so open he could see out of both the north and south ends of the room to the darkness outside. Each end extended out to outdoor porches that were screened off, but it allowed the breeze to filter through and provide a natural cooling system for the building. An overhanging ceiling lamp hung right in the center, the blades of the fans slowly turning to help circulate the air. Every now and then he thought he could hear a soft clinking sound like chimes carried with the breeze.

Three doorways led out of each of the other two curved walls, with the bathroom he had just exited on the southwestern side. The room he had woken up in had been directly across on the southeast. The other four rooms were likely another bedroom, a kitchen, an art studio, and another utility room of some kind such as a closet. He doubted it would be for laundry as most local homes of this kind did their laundry the traditional way: outdoor hand washing. Were he to go outside, he guessed he would find the clothing lines somewhere nearby.

Although the structure of the building seemed rather symmetrical, the décor ruined it and was one of the reasons why he assumed there was an art studio. Like the other room, masks hung along the walls, but they were also splattered with paints of various designs and colors. Which were accidental and which were intentional he could not tell—they all blended together in some chaotic harmony that only the artist would find appealing. Other works of art littered the room—paintings, sketches, abstract sculptures. Candles housed in small glass containers also lined the walls in a haphazard fashion, providing additional lighting. But what caught his eye was the occasional small, black wooden statue that rested on a few shelves. Some were used as book ends but others stood on their own. The flickering lights cast eerie shadows from the masks and statues that lined the walls.

The center of the room was also strange as the floor had been dug out to create a hollow area to step down into. Here a low, oddly shaped black wooden table was situated with large, colorful mosaic patterned cushions laid around as seats. Shaped as a half moon, the outer curve of the table faced the northern end while the inner curve opened to the south. The girls were sitting along this inner curve, the table's surface covered with a zoo of origami animals that could only have been made by one Patti Thompson.

"Where's Vera?" Kid asked as he took one last glance at the masks and statues before making his way over and sitting down at the end of the outer curve opposite them. He would have preferred sitting at the center of the curve, but he did not like the feeling of having his back completely exposed to the open porch. Instead he tried his best to be as centered to the eastern wall as he could.

"In the kitchen," Patti said as she moved a hippo over to stomp on an alligator. "Isn't this place awesome?"

"It's…something," he answered a little dryly as he took one more glance around the room. He seemed to notice something new every time he did.

"Don't even try touching anything," Liz said as she picked up a frog and played with its legs.

"I wasn't planning on it." Though that did not mean the urge to do so was not there. There was even a surfboard leaning against the wall—really why would one keep a surfboard there! Wouldn't it better outside or at least on the porch?

"Good," Vera's voice came from one of the adjacent rooms before she walked through the beaded curtain, a tray in her hands. "This place is like my own soul and I don't want anyone fucking with it," she continued as she gave Kid a pointed look before setting down the cups of hot tea and a large plate of sliced fruit with toothpicks sticking out from a couple of the slices.

Liz wondered if a threat like that would even work as she glanced down to study the cups. They were rather "cute" in her opinion and she wondered if they were handmade. Made of white clay, the only painted designs were the leaf-like swirls that matched Vera's tattoos and each cup had a different color. Hers was purple, Patti's pink, and Kid's yellow.

Kid just sighed and looked at the older woman. "I think we have more important matters to discuss," he answered as he eyed her. She seemed friendly, but the girls seemed more comfortable around her than he was personally willing to trust. He still had no idea who this woman was and whether she was a friend or foe in disguise.

Vera caught the look and only grinned. "Fine, fine. I guess the girls should tell you their little adventure. It's a pretty good one, too," she added as she plucked a piece of pineapple from the plate with a toothpick.

"It…really is hard to believe," Liz admitted as she played with her own toothpick while Patti started with the strawberries. "So just listen, okay?"

After gathering her thoughts, Liz slowly recounted what happened after the fight against the bat. How they had swum up to the surface and pulled Kid with them and how they encountered the mermaids and received their aid. She saw the look of incredulity he gave her, but he did not interrupt and allowed her to continue. When she got to the whale, however, she could tell he was trying hard to not say anything. Even she knew how ridiculous the story sounded, and she had lived through it. But upon retelling the mermaid's song, she saw his expression change.

"They sang?" he finally interrupted her, though he was more serious and contemplative than he was before.

"Yeah!" Patti answered. "And it was so cool! You couldn't see their mouths moving but you could still hear their voices—like some mind telepathy singing thing. And it was like we were in the ocean!"

"It was pretty amazing," Liz agreed. "And Patti and I were able to resonate again after that." She then faltered. "It was supposed to help you, too, but…"

"You started hurting again," Patti finished for her, her voice more subdued compared to her earlier enthusiasm.

"What do you mean?" Kid asked.

"Well you were clutching your chest," Liz answered. When he did not immediately respond and instead only remained silent, she tentatively asked, "It doesn't still hurt does it?"

"No," he quickly answered as he glanced over at her. At least not right now. He felt more or less normal, but what she described sounded similar to what he experienced in his subconscious. He had almost forgotten about it until she mentioned the mermaid's singing. The only clear memories he had were of the moments before he awoke. He now had to wonder what else he had forgotten. "What happened then?"

"They almost shot my assistant," Vera said dryly as she leaned against the table.

"He came out of nowhere, okay?" Liz shot back a little defensively. "A little warning would have been nice."

Kid looked between the two of them puzzled. "Assistant?"

"Lokun," Vera answered. She then pointed her toothpick at her him. "You're wearing his clothes, you know, so better thank him tomorrow when he comes back with the supplies."

This caught him a little off guard, but with the very limited information he had of this mysterious Lokun, he supposed it made sense that he was borrowing someone else's clothes. There were still more questions he wanted to ask about this "Lokun," but he held them off for the moment. "Continue."

"Well the mermaids seemed to recognize him," Liz started again. "I guess that's why they dropped us off here. Vera showed up not too long after and, well, we recognized her from the other day."

She's an artist!" Patti chimed in before adding with a suspiciously wide grin, "Sis bought a drawing she drew of—"

"Yeah that's not really important right now," Liz hastily said as she jabbed her elbow against her sister's side, which only made the younger girl giggle. "Anyway, we told them what happened and Lokun carried you back up here. That's when…uh…" She glanced over at Vera. "You should explain this part."

Kid looked over at his weapon confused before turning to Vera. "What happened?"

"Not gonna lie, you were pretty messed up," the older woman said as she leaned over toward him. "Whatever you were going through, it was happening in here," she jabbed his chest before tapping his forehead, "and here. But you seem all right now."

He only gave her a slight look for the sudden invasion of his personal space before asking warily, "And how were you able to figure that out?"

"It wasn't that hard to figure out after what the sisters told me," she said in a bored tone. "Plus I come from a long line of soul healers."

"Soul healers?" Kid repeated, his brows rising a bit.

"People who heal souls? Come on, it's not that complicated of a name."

"Yet it seems art is your main profession."

"Haven't you ever heard that art can soothe the soul?"

At that remark, Liz could not help but think back to the sketch she had purchased and was reminded how looking at it had given her a calm feeling. Was that really Vera's talent? Or was that just a coincidence?

"Tell him how you did it!" Patti interrupted, impatient for the story to continue.

"Yes, Vera," Kid said in an even but guarded tone as he tried to process this new piece of information. "How did you treat me?"

Noting the suspicious look, Vera only grinned as she stood up. "With a little old folk ritual passed down from generation to generation." She then stepped up and out of the lowered floor and walked over to one of the shelves where Kid had noted a few statues standing on it.

Hearing the word "ritual" did not ease him in the slightest as he watched her. "And how did that work?" Was this what Liz had referred to before?

As if knowing what he was going to ask next, she turned around and held up a strange little wooden statue. "With this little fellow right here," she answered before returning to the table and setting it down right in front of him.

Several hours ago

It had been a long night and Liz wondered if it would ever end. First the bat, then the mermaids, then the whale, and now they were in a stranger's home staring down at Kid's prone body on the floor. Granted this was a stranger they were vaguely familiar with, but one nonetheless. After their encounter on the beach, the girls found themselves waiting in the almost empty room—a meditation room was what Vera had called it, though Liz did not see how one could meditate in here. There was only a table with three different sized candles lit, and the flickering light cast eerie shadows on the masks that covered the walls around them. She shuddered as the hollow eyes seemed to watch their every move. Patti, of course, thought the complete opposite and Liz had to restrain the girl from taking one off and trying it on.

She was so focused on staring at the masks that she jumped at the sudden rustle of the beaded curtain and whirled around to see the woman coming in with a bowl containing a few things in it: some small round candles, a box of matches, a flask filled with some dark liquid, what looked like a small black plate, long thin black sticks, a small wooden box, and—

"…What the hell is that?" Liz asked as she stared at the small wooden statue Vera pulled out before she set it down on the table with the other items.

It was creepy in the way that it resembled a human and had the mask as a face. Just two dark, hollow eyes and a gaping wide mouth. The green carved lines down the sides and the stringy hair did not help. Not even Lord Death's old mask made her shudder like the one she saw on the small, wooden person.

"Just another tool for the ritual," the woman answered as she arranged everything.

Hearing the word "ritual" did not settle well with the older girl, so while Patti stood closer to watch, Liz stood closer to Kid, keeping herself between him and the table. "And you're sure you can help him?" she asked, not bothering to hide her guarded tone. "Because if you're really a witch—"

"If I were a witch," Vera said as she brushed past her to arrange the eight, smaller candles in a half moon arc on the floor above Kid's head, "then I would have killed you all before you even stepped into this house. Besides," she glanced up at Liz as she lit a match. "Shouldn't you have thought of that before accepting my help?"

The fox-like grin and the way the woman continued to proceed unnerved her, but she had a point. Liz had been so relieved just to see a familiar face that she did not think twice, especially when the mermaids seemed to know both her and the other guy—what was his name, Loki? Logan? Where did he go, anyway?

"Vera's not a witch," Patti piped in as she stood next to her sister to watch. "She's too cool to be one. She reminds me of Kim!"

...Well they do have similar personalities… "I'm only trusting you because those mermaids did," Liz finally said. Besides, if this really had been some elaborate scheme to bring them here, then she doubted they would have stood a chance against her. "But if anything happens to Kid during this—"

"Then you'll blow my brains out," Vera said as she stood back up after lighting the last of the eight candles. "Right, right. Now can you hand me that incense burner and the flask?"

Liz stared at her. "The what?"

"The incense burner—the plate with the flower on it."

"I got it!" Patti exclaimed as she hopped back over the table and after a moment picked up the desired objects.

As she passed by, Liz looked over at it. It was the black plate she had glimpsed at before, but now she could see the flower Vera had mentioned. It was sculpted in the center with the leaves etched on the plate itself. There were also light green lines that curved in a vine-like design around the plate. That's an incense burner? Liz thought. She had always seen them as bowls or containers with intricate designs. This one seemed rather simple yet elegant.

Vera directed Patti to set it on the floor within the center of the arc directly above the top of Kid's head. Once it was set the woman took the flask and poured a few drops into the center of the flower. She then set three of the long, thin black sticks in the flower before lighting them. As they burned, a soft but sweet aroma started to waft through the room.

This really does look like some kind of witch ritual, Liz thought as she stared at the now complete arrangement. "So where's that guy?" she asked, recalling her earlier thought.

"Lokun? I sent him down to the neighboring island to bring back supplies," the woman answered as she stood up to return to the table. "The storm's going to hit tomorrow and I definitely do not have enough for all three of you."

"Wait, what?" Liz just stared at her. She remembered seeing the storm clouds, but— "You seriously think we're going to stay here?"

Vera looked down at the unconscious death god. "Until he recovers? You won't have much of a choice. Even if he wakes up before the morning, none of you will be able to do much. The storm is said to hit late morning, so you guys are lucky you landed here when you did."

So we're stuck, Liz thought with some dismay. But at least they were not out there like Vera said. She said the storm would not hit until late morning and Lokun had to come back before then. It never hurt to think of an escape plan, like making a run for it and hide before stealing the boat later.

"Okay, what is it that you're going to do it? Like, exactly."

"I'm fixing your meister," Vera said as she opened the wooden box and rummaged through it. "I told you on the way up here—I come from a long line of soul healers. It was a thing for the village I came from."

"And all of this stuff is part of this…soul healing?"

"Soul healing works similar to meditation," Vera explained as she held up a purple crystal before setting it back in the box. "The incense has a calming effect on the mind which lets the person focus more inward into their soul—damn not this one either," she muttered as she set down a white crystal. "The patient works to concentrate on their wavelength and resort it on their own. But since your friend over there is unconscious, we have to do it for him—where the hell is that—don't tell me I don't have anymore."

"What are you looking for?" Liz finally asked as she stared at the various stones that now covered the table.

"An ocean crystal," the woman sighed as she held up a clear, blue crystal. "This one will work, but judging from his condition he's got something else going on. If used properly, crystals help capture any traces of Madness that may be infecting the soul—"

"Wait, seriously?" Liz exclaimed wide-eyed.

"—but it's dangerous and only my people can do it," Vera finished as she gave the girl a rare hard look. "It's a technique we only use under extreme circumstances and keep it in-house. Ocean crystals are the best for high amounts of Madness, but they are really hard to come by these days, at least the ones large enough for any real use. The small ones are more commonly used for jewelry."

Seeing the woman so serious about it unnerved Liz a bit. "What do they look like?"

"Similar to this," she said as she held the blue crystal closer to Liz, "but it's light green in color. They get their name by how it captures the light, giving it a shimmering reflection similar to—"


Vera stopped and looked at Liz, noting the look of realization that was spreading across the girl's face. "…Yes. Why? Have you seen one before?"

"Hold on," she said as she hurried to where she set their bags and rummaged through it. "Come on…I know I saw it…here!" she suddenly yelled as she jumped back up. Just as she hoped, it had not been one of the many things that had fallen out of her back. After a moment of hesitation, she walked back and held it up to the woman. "Is this it?"

Vera stared up at the crystal, and in the candle light the light rippled through the clear cerulean colored crystal. A wide grin spread across her face as she reached for it.

Liz, however, jerked her hand back before repeating, "This is it…right? And you need it?"

Amused Vera placed a hand to her hip as she looked up at the girl. "Aye, that's it and if you want this cleansing to be a success, we'll be needing it." Seeing the doubt still in the weapon's eyes, she sighed. "Look, it's not like I'm going to suck his soul into it."

"Not helping," Liz said dryly, but she glanced down to where Kid lay. He did seem to look calmer. Maybe the incense was working? A little bit of hope fluttered in her chest, but she managed to quell it down as she hardened her voice. "Just promise me that nothing bad will happen."

Vera looked at Liz before that mischievous grin softened. "Honey, you remember that sketch I did of you two?"

Awkward embarrassment started to crack through her otherwise tough exterior. "…Yeah? So what?" What does that have to do with anything?

"You want that time back?"

"I just want Kid back and not hurting anymore," she quickly responded, though in the back of her mind she answered yes. Yes she wanted the time back when they were just relaxing and not in the middle of this stupid, crazy mission and risking their lives every minute they were on it.

"Then nothing bad will happen," Vera said as she stepped closer to her, "because he has you two looking after him. Even if I tried you wouldn't let me, right?"

Not without giving hell first, at least. There was a moment as Liz stood there in silence before she turned to look at Patti who was now sitting on Kid's left. The younger girl only gave her sister a reassuring grin and that settled it. Her free hand clenching for a brief moment, she turned to look back at Vera and held out the crystal to her.

"Bring him back," was all she said.

The older woman took the crystal and held it up, examining it for herself. Satisfied she turned to the table and removed the mask from the statue, revealing a hollow cavity. "He's a lucky guy," she said as she placed the crystal inside and brought the statue to stand just outside the arc of candles, again set in the exact center.

"Kid helped us out a lot," Patti said. "So we kind of owe him."

"Sounds like you have quite the history."

"Something like that," Liz quietly agreed as she looked down at both her sister and Kid. "So…what now?"

"I need you to sit next to him here," Vera said before instructing them exactly how to position themselves.

Liz felt another wave of awkwardness as she sat on Kid's right and faced her sister who still sat on his left opposite her. Their legs were crossed and with their hands they formed a strange circle. With one hand they held each other's and the other held Kid's. Is holding hands a thing that all rituals used? Liz wondered. It was similar to what they had to do when they entered the Book, but at least Vera did not require witches or diagrams on the ground.

"The fact that the mermaids' song didn't help tells me this is gonna be rough," Vera said as she sat right beneath Kid's feet. "So while I'm performing the cleansing, you two just focus your soul wavelengths and try to connect to his. But," she looked at each of them, "it's going to be dangerous. Your own souls could be at risk, you know."

The sisters exchanged glances, Patti's more eager one contrasting with Liz's more troubled and uncertain one. But Liz could already feel the warmth of her sister's soul, as if the younger girl was trying to tell her that it would be okay. That once this was over they would all be back together and everything would be right again.

"Well we've come this far," Liz said, already having a feeling that this was not going to be a simple procedure.

"We've done a lot more crazy stuff than this," Patti chimed in.

The woman's grin widened at their responses. "Then close your eyes and concentrate."

And then the ritual began.

"After that, it was…weird," Liz said. "Like, all I could feel were Patti's soul and your soul. And then I don't remember much."

"They completely zoned out," Vera said. "Given how much energy it took, I'm not too surprised that they conked out like they did."

That explained why the girls had been holding his hands when he woke up. Kid had been silent during the retelling, and it had taken him a few moments, but some of the things they spoke of struck a few chords with him. The timing of it all matched what he experienced, and hearing that Liz and Patti had been trying to connect to his soul only reaffirmed what he knew: those two pink threads had been their soul wavelengths and they were the ones who pulled him out. Whether they realized it or not was a different matter, but they had definitely been there. But it was toward the end that his eyes narrowed.

"Do either of you realize how dangerous that was?" he said, his voice hardening as he stared at the girls. "Ignoring the fact you had no idea what was happening, you could have been affected by whatever was affecting me or worse—been consumed by it."

"Well yeah we knew," Liz said defensively, her hands gripping the now cold tea cup. "But if it would help you wake up then we were willing to risk it."

"You should have contacted someone else—"

"There wasn't any time for that! You were getting worse and we didn't have our phones—"

"Not that it would matter since we have shitty phone service here," Vera muttered under her breath.

"—and we don't know Morgan's number so we couldn't use the mirror so what else were we going to do? Just let you suffer like that?"

"You could have contacted Shibusen and have someone else come to your aid."

"Well you know when you have an unconscious meister having chest pains and you just came from almost drowning in the middle of the oceans you don't always think of everything!"

Once again, Patti found herself glancing at both of them as they continued to argue. She could both understand and not understand why Kid seemed so angry about what they did. So he was worried about them—she got that part, but they were used to doing things on their own and having to take care of him whenever he was incapacitated. They grew up in dangerous environments where no one trusted anyone. That all changed when they met Kid, though, and like she had told Vera, they owed him. And like her sister, Patti would do whatever it took to make sure he stayed safe, even if it meant diving into magical books or partaking in weird rituals.

"Does it really matter?" she finally interrupted. "I mean…we're all okay and nothing bad happened! So why are you two arguing about it?"

The two could only look at the younger Thompson sister with blank expressions. They knew she had a point, but neither wanted to back down.

In the end, however, Kid was the first to relent as he sighed and leaned back. "I'm just glad things did work out and that neither of you were hurt."

"They were in good hands," Vera said dismissively. "Course I'm not exactly a professional. I just picked up a few things here and there over the years."

His eyes narrowed. "So if you had performed it incorrectly…"

"You all could have died."

The fact that she said it with such nonchalance only irked Kid and sparked that initial flame of concern and wariness again. Seeing her meister riling up, Patti stuck a toothpick into one of the few strawberries left and held it out to him, leaning over Liz as she did. "Here, Kid! You haven't eaten anything yet."

Surprised he just stared at the strawberry. "I'm not—" His words were cut short when he suddenly found the piece of fruit shoved into his mouth and had to stop himself from choking. When he finally managed to swallow he sputtered, "Patti!"

Liz was also surprised by her sister's sudden act, but she just continued to lean back and watched as the younger girl just laughed. She had also seen Kid's change of expression and did not want to go into another argument. If Patti could distract him, then she was not going to interfere.

"Because you were getting angry again," Patti said as she pointed at him. "Come on, lighten up! You're okay now and Vera didn't steal your soul or anything." Now fully lying on her sister's lap, she looked up at her less than amused meister. "So you can trust her, right?"

Kid just continued to give the girl a dry look before glancing up at Liz. She only shrugged. Whatever misgivings she initially held had been cleared when Kid woke up safe and sound. Seeing that he was left on his own to decide, he let out a sigh and looked at the woman who had been watching them.

"At the very least what you told me matched with what I remember," he finally said.

"You remember what happened while you were unconscious?" Liz asked.

"Bits and pieces," he said. "But the later events are fresher in my mind."

"You know you're lucky, right?" Vera said as she leaned forward. "I've seen some pretty messed up folks pass through when I was growing up, and most don't survive an intensive ritual like that." She grinned. "Then again you are a death god, so perhaps that's why."

Kid only eyed her. "I'm still curious to learn more about your heritage and your trade."

"Later," the woman said with a dismissive wave. "It's too late for that."

At the mention of time, he glanced at the clock. Like everything else in the house, it was more like a piece of art than a traditional looking wall clock. Made of what looked like oak, it was in the shape of a palm leaf with the hands made from sticks. But the short stick was currently just a little past the charcoal painted numerical two, the longer one just to the left of it. It really was late. Still, there was one thing he was curious about.

"So where is the crystal?"

The woman reached over to the statue. "Right here."

She pulled down on the "face" of the statue and Kid realized it was not a face at all but a mask. Behind it was the crystal Liz had collected back on the beach of Dyer's Cove. He had only given it a passing glance back then, but he still noticed that it was not as bright as it had been before. In fact the coloring looked dull, as if it had somehow been injected with dark ink and stained from the inside.

"Should have seen it before," she said as she watched him pick it up to give it a closer look. "It was almost pitch black."

Kid only glanced at her as turned the crystal between his fingers. If he recalled correctly, Vera had said that the crystal had the ability to absorb Madness. The fact that the crystal had such absorbing qualities was both intriguing and alarming. He had heard of cultures that believed that crystals such as these had some kind of healing property, but he always believed it to be metaphysical and more of a mind trick than anything concrete. Seeing it in his hand, however, made him wonder. For in this crystal he could feel the slight tinges of Madness contained within it.

"You mentioned that this particular crystal was more powerful than the others," he said as he looked over at the older woman. "So what makes it so special?"

"That little beauty is known as an ocean crystal," Vera said. "You can only find them in certain places and large pieces like those aren't easy to find. Local legends say they hold mystical healing properties and were what the original soul healers used in their trade." She shrugged. "I don't know about the scientific properties, but soul healers have always used them."

Somehow Kid felt that she was not saying all that she knew. Perhaps it was that fox-like grin or that bright look in her eye that never seemed to disappear, but he had a feeling there was more to it than that and that he was not going to get anymore answers from her. At least not tonight. With a sigh he placed the crystal back into the statue. As he did, he took a moment to once again study the eerie wooden piece.

He could not help but wonder if the other wooden statues that were scattered about the room held similar objects or had been used for similar practices or perhaps for something else. He was also still not sure if the girls should have been so trusting. Soul healer or not (yet another thing he was going to have to look into) this whole ordeal seemed to resemble more of a witch's ritual than anything else. However, he was aware that there were other cultures that had similar practices. The practice of magic did not just belong to the witches, and given the islands' history with the local tribes, it was not too farfetched to believe that such a tribe existed.

Kid sat back and looked over at the older woman. "At any rate, you did help us and I am sitting here thanks to your methods." As questionable as those still were. "Along with you allowing us to stay in your home for the night, I thank you for everything you've done, Vera."

"Oh ho, being thanked by the little death god himself," Vera grinned. "But whatever, it's not like I'd leave those two girls hangin' out there high and dry."

"That's good to know," Liz said dryly, but she was also grateful. Even if they had only met once before, it was fortunate that they had landed on the island where the artist lived instead of some complete stranger. Seriously, what were the odds?

"Plus there's that storm coming," Vera added as she replaced the mask and stood up. "So you're probably gonna be stayin' for a day or two until the weather clears."

"I appreciate your offer of hospitality, but we can't stay that long," Kid said.

"Kid, you just woke up from whatever the hell knocked you out," Liz protested.

"That doesn't matter."

"Yes it does," Vera interrupted. "A soul cleansing as draining as yours requires the patient to not do anything intensive for at least a day." Unlike her usual aloof demeanor, the woman was staring hard at Kid as she pointed her toothpick right at his soul. "Maybe half a day for you, but I wouldn't risk it. We got rid of whatever was messing with its circuits, but the soul needs to mend itself on its own."

"We need the break, anyway, Kid," Liz added. "Plus it's not like we can fight out in bad weather."

"I wanna stay over here for a little while," Patti said as she rolled onto her back while still on her sister's lip. "Come on, Kid! Just for a day."

With a frustrated sigh he pinched the bridge of his nose. Why did always come to this? However, Vera may have had a point. Were he to go out and encounter the bat again, he was not sure how he would fare if it used that attack again. He also did not want to put his weapons in that position again—especially if it could be worse. So in the end he took another breath.

"All right," he breathed. "For one day," he added. "That should be plenty of time for me to fully recover and figure out our next move." He then turned to look through the screened openings into the darkness beyond. "Though this is going to set us back. I would have liked to return to Dyer's Cove in the morning."

"Go back where?" Vera asked, a brow raised.

"Dyer's Cove," Kid repeated, looking at her in slight confusion. "It's where we first encountered the bat and also where Liz got that crystal I believe."

"…Huh. Well I've never heard of no Dyer's Cove," the woman said. "And I've traveled through these islands all my life."

The three just stared at her. Or rather Kid and Liz stared. Patti just tilted her head in a more curious manner.

"What?" Liz said as she tried to make sense of what had just been said. "You can't be serious."

"I'm serious," Vera answered before shrugging. "Then again, maybe it's called something different. Some of these islands have so many different names that it's possible. But I've never heard any locals calling it that. Who told you about it?"

"A Shibusen agent," Kid answered slowly. Come to think of it, when they looked at the chart for directions back at that office, did he ever really see the island on the map? He had just looked at where Johnny had pointed and the direction it was from Verrils Island. But they had been to an island. It existed. Just not the name, apparently.

The older woman stood there thoughtfully. "Lokun has a few navigational charts in his house. He could bring them up tomorrow and we can look through them. If you remember where it was, we might be able to figure it out." She then stifled a yawn. "Until then, I'm getting some sleep. This has gone on a lot longer than I thought it would and I wasn't expecting you guys to wake up in the morning hours when it's still dark out. Let me get you guys some sleeping bags," Vera continued. "They're out in the storage shed in the back. Wanna help, Patti?"

"Sure!" Patti said as she hopped up and reached over to pick up the now empty fruit plate.

As the two disappeared through the beaded curtain that led to the kitchen, Liz started to gather up Patti's paper zoo to bring back to the room. But when she glanced over at Kid, she paused. He was leaning back against the edge of the floor and had that serious, contemplative look that she had grown accustomed to over the time she had been his weapon. The furrowed brow, the slight down turn of the mouth, the concentrated stare to the floor—all signs that he was processing all the information he had been given and trying to not only make sense of it all, but also figure out what they needed to focus on next.

In other words, he was thinking about crap he did not need to think about right now.

So after finding a small piece of leftover origami paper on the table, she rolled it into a ball, aimed, and threw it right at his head. When he jerked and looked up at her, she just crossed her arms and stared back, her face void of any real expression.

"You're going to give yourself a headache if you think too much right now."

Picking up the balled up piece of paper, he played with it between his fingers before setting it on the table—exact center and upon closer inspection, it had also been reformed so that it was more of a perfect sphere. "We need to figure out where to go from here—"

"And you can do that later," Liz interrupted as she stood up, her arms filled with the paper animals. "We're going to be here all day and you can look at all those sea charts or whatever. Plus you just woke up from being knocked out and you need real sleep. Not the stuck-in-a-coma type of sleep. Now help me bring these things back to the room."

He just gave her a look before reaching over to pick up the handful of stray animals that had escaped capture. "I was not in a coma."

"Close enough," she said dismissively before stepping up and out of the lowered floor and walked over to the room they were temporarily using.

Although he could argue the technical and scientific differences between being in an actual coma and the strange state of unconsciousness he had been, Kid decided that it would be as fruitless as his previous attempts at correcting her constant misuse of tropical and subtropical and jungle and forest. So after gathering the last of the animals, he stood up, reset the cushions so that they were in a more orderly and evenly spaced position, shifted the table to be more perfectly centered on the floor, and stepped back up onto the main floor. He then turned and looked back over at where the statues were standing on display. They had caught his attention before, but now he found himself standing in front of the shelf and staring at them for closer inspection.

They were of various designs—some were tall, some short, some intricately designed, some bare—and all had masks that were also varied in design and color. He was tempted to try and remove the mask of one of them but refrained from doing so. They were likely harmless, but there was also something about them that piqued his curiosity. There were other strange items and artifacts on the shelves—bowls, stones…bones? He would have to ask Vera more about them later along with the mountain of questions he had already compiled from their previous discussion.

After taking a few more minutes, Kid took one last look before turning and walking over to the room. He was about to enter when Liz pushed back the curtain, almost running into him.

"There you are," she said as she held up the long, beaded strands higher so he could enter. "I was starting to wonder if you forgot which room it was." Though she knew he would not have.

"I take it this is the only guest room," he said as he walked over to where he saw Liz had placed the rest of Patti's creations. They were set in a corner of the room and she had even positioned and grouped them so that it really did look like some kind of zoo.

"Actually it's some kind of meditation room," she corrected as she followed after him. "I don't think Vera normally has people sleep over."

"That explains a lot, actually," he murmured as he set down the paper animals in their proper places. The incense burner he had seen on the table from earlier had been removed, the large candles the only things left and providing the only light in the room aside from the moonlight that streamed through the window.

"At least we'll have sleeping bags instead of these mats," she offered. What's taking them so long, anyway? Liz wondered and hoped Patti did not get distracted by whatever else was in that shed. But at the thought of the sleeping bags coming in, she decided to clear out some space and crouched down to roll up the floor mats. "Come on, give me a hand."

Wordlessly Kid complied, crouching down next to her to help. But as he started to roll the mat he had been resting on only a few hours before, he stopped as the recent events replayed in his mind. Glancing upward, he looked at the bare floor. The items must have been removed while they had been asleep, but he could see where some of the candle wax had dripped onto the floor. After another moment he said in a low voice, "…Liz. I didn't properly say it before, but thanks."

The girl stopped in mid-roll and looked back at him. He was not looking at her, instead having resumed the task. She could see that he was trying to keep the mat straight and even as he rolled it and knew it was going to take him forever. But it would keep him busy, at least. She turned back around and resumed her rolling, listening to the thick, matted straw crunch and press against each other before replying. "It's fine. Like I told you, we're your weapons."

"You must find me a lousy meister, then," he said a little ruefully. "This is the second time you've had to pull me out of something."

"You just have bad luck," Liz said as she reached the end of her mat and moved to lean it against the nearby wall. "But I swear if I have to save your ass again I'm going to have Patti draw a picture book with you as the helpless princess stuck in a tower."

"Hey," he called out as he looked up at her, only to frown when he saw the smirk. His frown disappeared, however, when her own expression faltered and she looked back down.

"But seriously, Kid…I don't know how much more of this I can take," Liz said in a low voice. She was still on her knees, her hands clasped over one another as she stared down at them. She had kept up a strong front and they had somehow managed to pull through, but now that she was alone with Kid and the adrenaline now gone, all the memories came flooding back. And with them came the insecurities and fears that she had managed to keep at bay.

"I get that you're strong and I know that you can take a lot more than any of us can. But you're not invincible, either. When Vera told us that your soul had been damaged…it's different from a few broken bones or something. At least I know those can heal." Her voice softened even lower, her grip tightening. "I really thought you were gonna die back there." And it really scared me.

Kid just stared at her, the half rolled mat forgotten as her words tumbled through his mind. He thought she would be used to this—that due to the nature of both their job as Shibusen agents and his duty as a death god such dangerous situations and possible life threatening outcomes were just another part of their life. Yes, she would sometimes protest, but for the most part she usually went with the flow. Seeing her like this, however, reminded him of what he saw earlier and how strange it had been. From the earlier discussions, he thought she had settled back to normal. So…why now?

"Liz, you know you don't have to worry so much abou—"

"I'm your weapon, okay?" she interrupted him, her voice rising a bit. "It's my job to protect you so of course I'm going to have to worry. And do you know how it feels when I can't?"

"You don't have to blame yourself," Kid said, keeping his voice calm as he tried to figure out what exactly it was that made her upset. Was it because of his injuries or was it something more? "I know you and Patti both do your best and I really couldn't ask for another pair of weapons." When she did not respond, he let out a soft breath and stood up, letting the mat roll back to the floor. He then moved to kneel in front of her. "Liz, look at me."

Hearing him so close startled her for a moment, and she found herself staring harder at her clenched hands, knowing her face would reveal the emotions she tried to hide. She had tried to put it behind her, to try and move on like usual. She had grown up in the streets, had hardened herself to become the person that she was today. But this had been different. She had felt helpless when they were drifting out in the middle of the ocean and she had to rely on anyone they happened to stumble into. It had been hard to believe that he would be okay when she could see him suffering right in front of her. But she could feel his eyes on her and after a moment she slowly raised her head and looked up. Although his expression was as calm and reserved as always, she could see the concern reflected in his eyes.

"As a weapon, your job is to protect me, your meister," Kid said. "But as your meister, I'm also supposed to guide and lead you. That also includes ensuring that you both are safe." His expression softened a little, his posture relaxing a bit, but there was also a bit of uncertainty. He moved so that he was sitting next to her. "Look. We both know that our line of work leads us to dangerous situations and while I use my being a death god to my advantage, I know I'm not invincible. But each time we fight, I also know that you guys will be there. I can only do what I can do because I have you both by my side." He leaned a little closer to her. "So don't ever think you fail as a weapon. If there's anyone who has failed, it would be me."

"You don't fail," Liz muttered, now trying to keep the wave of embarrassment from rising any further than the flutter in her throat.

She never could accept actual heartfelt praise or compliments well, especially when it came from Kid. His compliments were always based on factual evidence and what he believed to be true. They were not just phrases of flattery—they were honest. And that always seemed harder to accept than other types of compliments. So she tried to redirect her emotions to the sudden bubble of annoyance that arose when he used the "f" word.

"Even when you were all messed up, you still tried to protect us in the end."

"It shouldn't have happened to begin with," he said, the guilt lacing his words as he looked down at his hands.

"I don't think any of us could have seen it coming," she sighed. "So I think we both kind of failed."

Kid glanced at her before tilting his head back to rest against the wall. "I won't let it happen again."

"Will you quit it with the 'I' business," Liz said as she gave him a look. "Let us help, too. Or was what you said before just all talk and flattery?"

"I was serious." But he got the point. "So I'll be relying on you. Both of you."

Liz sat there for a moment before she finally let her body relax; feeling the wave of exhaustion hit her. Had it really only been a day? "You are such a pain to take care of, you know that?" she muttered as she closed her eyes and leaned against him.

A little surprised by the sudden weight, he glanced over at her. "What is that supposed to mean?"

When he did not get a response and instead heard the soft breathing, he let out a small sigh. She could have easily have leaned against the mat that was set next to her other side. Why him? He did not move, instead closing his eyes as he listened to the sounds of the night life outside the window. But he then picked up something else.

"Your sister is already asleep so you might as well come in now," Kid said, his eyes still closed.

There was a small rustle from outside the doorway before the beaded curtain clattered as Patti made her way inside, bringing a large bundle over as she did.

"How long have you been out there?" Kid sighed as he reopened his eyes to look at her.

Patti just giggled as she walked over to them and set the bundle down, revealing them to be pillows and blankets. "Sis was really tired, huh?"

"I'm surprised you still have this much energy," he only said. "Now help me get her into one of those sleeping bags."

"Sorry, Kid," Patti said in a voice that suggested she was not sorry at all, "but there was only one."

He stared at her. "There's what?"

"Only one," she said as she held up one index finger as if to emphasize the point. "So we'll just do it like this…"

And before he could even move or protest, Patti had draped one blanket over both Liz and Kid before setting the sleeping bag next to him. She then wormed her way into it and rested her head on his lap. "Night, Kid!"

"Patti," he hissed, "I can't sleep like this!"

But the younger girl said nothing, instead wriggling a little inside the sleeping bag. And then she, too, soon fell asleep, something he had not expected to happen so quickly. It was then that he realized that despite her energy, the girl was likely just as exhausted as her sister.

Seeing that both his weapons were now asleep, Kid let out a long sigh. Once more tilting his head back against the wall, he closed his eyes, the dimming candle lights flickering and extinguishing soon after. He let the silence of the room and the soft sounds of the night envelop him as his thoughts began to wander. Tomorrow he would have to try and contact both his father and Morgan, especially with the latter. It was likely the captain had noticed them missing and had people looking for them.

I never did ask what island this was, he thought idly as he felt his consciousness drifting. More questions for tomorrow. As his thoughts continued to drift, he thought he caught the sound of glass clattering against one another. Chimes? Wind chimes, perhaps. He vaguely remembered hearing them earlier. A familiar sound…

Clink clink clink.

A/N: Ah…haha…long overdue chapter is way long overdue. Sorry about that. To help make up for the wait, everyone gets a 21 page chapter. I considered splitting it, but I preferred having it all together since there weren't that many good breaking points. A lot more elements were brought in and some introspection and development. And the artist from chapter one has finally made her reappearance! Nothing is going to waste in this story, so what else will prove to be important?