For those who would like a reminder of the background here goes; This story takes place during part 5 of "Bad Moon Rising" just after Pyrite startled everyone by announcing he has always known Azurite was in love with Calcite. He added that he had hoped that with Margrave gone but Azurite still hesitant to approach Calcite she was finally giving up on him. But those hopes had been dashed by Margrave's return. Now the triangle would resume with Azurite jealous of Margrave but afraid to say anything to Calcite for fear of rejection so nothing would be resolved. He was tired of being Azurite's stand-in for Calcite and couldn't take it anymore. With that he teleported out of the Knight Sabers HQ. Azurite followed almost immediately.
Somebody cries out as I materialize before them. This place has much that would be considered miraculous on the other Earth but they haven't got teleportation yet. The inhabitants call this city MegaTokyo and by their calendars it is October in the year 2033 AD. Both chronologically and technologically it is almost forty years more advanced than our adopted world. Once I would have delighted in these surroundings, overjoyed by science fiction become science fact. But no more. Now my surroundings are meaningless to me. Nothing matters except the emptiness within. I have become a hollow man. All I want is to be alone but I am denied even the solitude my pain drives me to seek. Around me people stare in disbelief as they try to find a rational explanation for my appearance in my midst. I ignore those who try to speak and push past them with my more than human strength. Perhaps this time she will grant me the peace I need and return to him. What she sought waits for her, why pursue me just to tell me we can still be friends? I can't take that, not now! Why won't you leave me alone? In the name of whatever affection you had for me give me the time I need to learn to stand this emptiness. But my hopes are dashed as I sense a familiar presence.
She didn't heed my unvoiced plea. It seems I am as lacking in telepathic facilities as always. I wonder if I smile at the thought? I rather doubt it. Right now I don't feel like I'll ever smile again. Even as I think this I am already casting my mind out in search of a new hiding place. She slides through the crowd without contact almost as though no-one obstructs her path. She would have made a great slalom skier. I always found her combination of grace and power entrancing and I almost pause to watch her approach. She's still calling my name. Have I ever heard her sound so anxious?
No, but to stay is to delude myself further and I've done that for far too long. Hard as it is I must learn to accept the painful truth. Still I dally a moment until she is almost upon me. I see dawning relief that I am staying to listen and that snaps me from my stupor. I flex my mind and instantly I am elsewhere in the sprawling megalopolis.
Through this city of the future I am running. From both the shards of my foolish dreams and the woman I love. Azurite, my warrior woman.
No. I am still deluding myself. Though I was hers she was never mine. It's past time I learned to accept the reality of it. I try to make myself believe that but my thoughts turn to her and to the past. Even though I flee her I can't stop thinking of her and what could have been. I try to focus on my flight alone but it's a hopeless task. I can only hope to escape her here and now, I will never escape the past. Memories flood my mind of the days when I believed there was hope. Foolish hopes yet I know I will always treasure them. As my mind casts out for another haven the past unfurls before me. I've heard it said the saddest words ever spoken are, "If only ..." but I didn't truly understand it until today.
Was it love at first sight? Perhaps. I was certainly smitten the first time I saw her but was that true love or simply desire? I suppose I'll never know. That day so long ago comes back to me almost against my will.
As was often the case when I sought to relax I had joined my cousins at Calcite's stronghold. Things had been quiet after some recent action though I had been busy in the aftermath. Having completed my analysis on the unknown artifacts Magnesite had acquired during his recent skirmish with a colleague I had joined Cal to deliver them to our "beloved" leader. After making our escape (taking our leave) we had returned to Cal's home. He had suggested I stay and take a break from my researches. Not only could I use it but my youngest cousin was clamouring to see me again. I had accepted with pleasure, their home was certainly more comfortable than mine. Following my mother's death I had converted most of our house into an extended lab to the detriment of my living space. I had also set up a small lab in Cal's spacious abode but it was used just for safe, easy and well understood projects. The more dangerous and experimental research I performed in my own place. Where no one I cared for would get hurt if anything went catastrophically wrong.
The day being pleasant (as youma judge such things) we were in the courtyard enjoying it. It seemed all clear, things were as safe as could be expected. The outer wards prevented anyone teleporting in on us unannounced and were performing admirably in keeping the wildlife at bay. In addition I sensed no cloaked presences and through the translucent demarcation walls nothing hostile could be seen. Of course one couldn't discount the possible presence of an unseen, sensor invisible predator (youma or otherwise) but it was as good as it was going to get. As I remember it Ti was examining her garden for moss or lichens ready to harvest. At six years old she was already trying to help Cal in the kitchen. In a few years she would surpass his cooking talents but to be fair she had time to focus on mastering the culinary arts while he had more pressing concerns.
Back then Calcite was the same age that his sister is now, fourteen. But his development wasn't slowed by stasis exposure so he was a fourteen in youma terms not fourteen as humans define it. Ti is growing up along a more human scale but that's a rare occurrence for our kind. Metallia designed her warrior race to mature rapidly. Biologically and socially Cal had been an adult for two years. I was a year older but there had never been any question about which of us was in charge. About a year had passed since our mothers died and Calcite took his vengeance. That was also about how long it had been since Magnesite made Cal and offer he couldn't refuse and Margrave entered his life which had certainly complicated things for all of us.
Anyway it was a pleasant day. Ti was gardening and humming a tune she was making up while Cal and I talked in the background. I forget exactly what we were discussing, profound as it no doubt seemed at the time what followed seems to have overwritten the memory. That was when it began and things started changing forever. I stopped in the middle of saying something as I felt a tingle on the edge of my awareness. A tingle that meant something was heading our way. Cal didn't interrupt, he recognised the way I looked and went to Ti's side to squat beside her. Ready in an instant to scoop her up and defend her.
The impressions became clearer. "Single youma ... making no effort to mask presence or aura ... definitely heading this way (as this was the only habitation nearby that was rather redundant) ... power level is ..." I concentrated and felt a cold sensation in the pit of my stomach. "Less powerful than you but not by much!"
Cal nodded and told Ti to go in the house immediately. She didn't complain, just kissed him on the cheek, waved to me and scuttled inside. She had learned which tone of voice meant he couldn't be argued with. As soon as she was inside I activated the house wards. Those were the most upgraded magics I could build. Anything strong enough to breach them would destroy the house and Ti in the process. Which was a far better fate than being taken alive would be. She would never be able to conceal her nature and the thought of her fate had made me vow that would never happen. Meanwhile our visitor continued to approach, neither hurrying nor making any effort to conceal her presence. Still no signs of anyone else so it wasn't a distraction. I asked Cal if this was a possible challenge. He acknowledged the possibility but I would have been able to recognise any underling and simply defeating him in single combat wouldn't guarantee Magnesite granting his position to an unknown. Indeed it could get them fried for terminating a valuable servant. Of course we couldn't count on whoever it was being smart enough to know that. With that we settled down to wait. It wasn't long before she sauntered up the rise the stronghold was built on and we got our first look at her. Cal's stone faced killer expression didn't falter but I think my jaw dropped.
I judged her about 13, just a little below my height. Before too long she would be taller than me, like many female youma despite entering adulthood a year or two earlier she hadn't quite reached her full height yet. At the time that was the last thing on my mind. My eyes roved over her for longer than a simple appraisal would have required. Blue hair cascaded down her back, the colour matched the bodystocking that moulded to her like a second skin. My gaze returned to her face which snapped me out of my stupor. Normally red eyes are said to burn but these had a coldness within them. Her face said it all. She didn't dress like this to seduce, merely so her clothing wouldn't obstruct her if action was required. Her expression was very close to Calcite's. Not the bluster of menace so many wore but that same cold neutrality I'd often seen on my cousin. A look that said she'd kill you with the same ease that she'd look at you and saw no difference between either act. A look backed by confidence in herself rather than arrogance.
I regained enough presence of mind to whisper to Calcite that she wore no glamour. As her clothing didn't hide her body she was obviously a humanic, just like us. I managed not to add any disclaimers to that last statement.
As we had studied her she had been studying us. He gaze had flicked over me and dismissed me almost immediately. While I couldn't argue with the appraisal it was still a little galling. Calcite she had studied a lot more carefully, sizing him up, matching the stories about him to the man. She stopped just before the gateway and gave a minuscule nod. It seemed she was satisfied with what she saw. While the gate was physically open she stood on the opposite side of the outer wards. She didn't ask for admittance and Cal didn't offer it. Instead she simply said, "You are Calcite, sometimes known as Green Death. That must be Pyrite beside you." Cal nodded fractionally.
"I had heard there was another humanic over Zahgenmire way. A loner usually referred to as Blue Death." A faint smile touched her lips as she flicked a lock of hair.
"There is a definite lack of imagination among our kind when it comes to nicknames. My true name is Azurite."
"And what do you seek here?" I suspect my cousin already had a good idea but I was to busy hoping she wasn't about to challenge him. It would have disturbed me to see her throw her life away. So her answer rather startled me.
"We're both humanics which doesn't make us particularly popular. The loner life gets harder the older you get. It's become obvious my choices are either head off to the wastes and live a solo life or find a band to join. I don't like starting at the bottom but go into any of the legions and there's too many cliques to hope for rapid advancement. Besides the infighting is murderous. A smaller band's a better choice for a loner. As Magnesite's gathered the other humanics it's the best choice. If I join then that's all of us in one unit. Our common appearance gives us a reason to stay banded together so we're less likely than the average youma to backstab one another. That appeals to me."
I was about to say that Titanite wasn't officially part of the band but Calcite stepped forward and (somewhat less than coincidentally) stepped on my foot. While I was biting back an "OW!" Calcite took the initiative.
"That's why you need us. Why do we need you?"
"Two reasons. First, I'll be slower to betray you. Second, you need me." Calcite looked faintly amused but it didn't discourage or anger her. Evenly she continued, "Rumour says since you joined Magnesite you've been trying to strengthen his forces. But start with dross and no matter how much you polish it at base it's still worthless. You need me." Her eyes flicked to me, she didn't look impressed. "I hear he's your chief subordinate. If that's the best you can do you're in real trouble!"
Calcite's smile grew slightly but there was no hint of amusement in his eyes. "If he was a warrior I'd have to agree but muscle is cheap and Pyrite's got a lot of value you can't find anywhere. His job isn't command or combat it's support and analysis and his powers are orientated towards them. That makes him a strategic and tactical asset that a dozen warriors can't match. He'll be a master of crystal magic in another few years and those are very hard to find." She looked thoughtful as she reassessed me. I strove unsuccessfully to affect a nonchalant attitude but at least I managed not to preen. Calcite added, "He's got one other power that makes him almost unique."
She studied me again and I felt a crude aura scan which I blocked instinctively. There was no hint of frustration as she coolly asked, "What would that be?"
"It's quite simple. He can think." There was a momentary silence then the corners of her lips lifted and she nodded.
"That is a rare commodity." She seemed genuinely amused. The ability to see humour in your own errors was equally rare. Cal nodded fractionally.
"Why come to me? Why not go directly to Magnesite and tell him this? She turned completely serious again.
"That would have been a challenge to you and your reputation is formidable." Most might have added something about possibly exaggerated but she went on, "I don't issue challenges needlessly." She paused but Calcite didn't try to equate that to cowardice. "I did some research beforehand. All indications are you'd make better use of my talents than he would and might not be number two forever." After a moment she added, "Also he might have insisted on extra considerations in exchange and I prefer to choose my own lovers. You've got a reputation for not forcing yourself on your underlings."
Calcite just shrugged slightly. "In addition to complicating a band's hierarchical structure I find willing partners make it more enjoyable." Actually there were plenty of females (and two males) in the band who'd have been happy to sleep with their boss in exchange for various considerations. But they were all out of luck. Cal had no interest in the men, the terminal candidates just depressed him and the others were SOL since he'd become infatuated with Margrave. I don't think Azurite knew any of this at the time. Instead she just added a curt comment.
"Just to be sure we understand one another when I offer my services I'm not including my body. That's my choice and a death match if anyone thinks otherwise."
"Those terms are acceptable but the question remains why do I need you. You've obviously got power but competence is another matter."
She didn't bluster, just said, "Easily proven. We spar and break before it gets lethal. You get to see how good I am." In her eyes I could see the unspoken part. "That'll let me see how much of your reputation is just hot air."
If I saw it Calcite certainly did but it didn't phase him. He just pointed to a neighbouring plateau. The one he used to hone the powers he couldn't test inside our wards. The ones that tore gouges out of the landscape. "There. We'll be along momentarily."
"Soon as you've sealed the place to make sure I'm not running distraction for raiders." It wasn't a question and seemed to amuse her. "Very well." With that she vanished and I sensed her reappear near the plateau on the path she had walked to meet us. She must have memorized several teleports point en route in case local relocation became necessary. I felt her aura moving towards the battleground as Cal headed in to tell Ti to wait in the house and signal him if there was an emergency. Ti knew enough not to send false alarms so if his pager went he'd return instantly. I followed him in, having a few adjustments to make to the house wards
After some brief discussion he agreed I could accompany him. There was already a shielded observer's perch in place and easily activated (at least by me) so I wouldn't get in the way. With that we moved out of the blocking field and ported to the grounds. Azurite was already there, surveying the terrain. She accepted me as referee without any qualms though as a matter of form she made the standard threat about favouritism. The rules were fairly simple, the fight would continue until first blood and/or broken bones or until one of them hit the ground. Both gave the other a sketchy summary of their powers and took up positions about 200 paces apart with my vantage point in the middle. They both had the same relaxed appearance, faces with that lazy look you see in a predator's. Just before it explodes into a blur of fangs and claws. It was all down to me. Feeling a nervousness I doubt either shared I said, "Begin!"
It was a good thing I could sense energy patterns. With that I was able to reconstruct the fight afterwards. Shockwave and hurricane slammed into one another and dissipated. Even if one had overpowered the other both had already moved. Charged blades skimmed by Azurite by a wide margin and she spun out of the way of the shockwave they were supposed to drive her into with a speed I could hardly believe. Winds flicked blades back at Calcite but he phased them out almost as soon as they turned. They blurred towards one another but Azurite didn't quite get into hand to hand range. Calcite dodged a close range wind funnel as she danced out of the way of a two handed spread of blades. They exploded as they passed but she rode the blastwave into a somersault to give her some distance. As she came to rest Cal built an attack but the loose dust suddenly whipped around him blocking his visibility. Obviously her powers extended to fine control of air currents as well. She was already moving again and pumped a hurricane into the dust storm. As she did something warned her and Calcite's polearm just missed her head as he materialized behind her. She rolled out of the way, scooping and throwing a large rock in the process. Cal dodged easily enough but it spoiled his follow up attack. That's when it started getting intense.
It seemed to go on for hours but in reality it was only minutes. I don't think either had ever had a fight like this before. All their other battles had been kill or be killed, swift and merciless. The object here wasn't to kill and that made it a lot harder. At least it hadn't been but with both being fast, shielded and teleporters neither had got a good strike in yet. Power levels had been escalating and I was beginning to fear when one of them got tagged it could be fatal. Yet all that aside there was something else going on. There were concentrating intensely on one another but there was something else about them. Impossible as it seemed to believe they both seemed to be enjoying this! A normal youma like Azurite maybe but Cal? I couldn't understand it then. I still can't.
Both had come to a standstill and were watching one another. The way they were looking at each other was ... I don't know how to describe it. I've heard there's some sort of bond between those who consider each other worthy opponents. A respect of sorts, though it won't keep them from beating each other's brains out. I don't know if that's true, I've never been a warrior but I saw something pass between them. Both smiled almost simultaneously and somehow I knew it was about to end.
They both launched themselves at one another, the air swirling around Azurite's left hand. I sensed an energy buildup I recognised as the precursor to Cal's "razorstorm" attack but there was no time to think, only to witness. It all happened so fast. Azurite blinked out in mid run and reappeared in front of Calcite. Their shields locked and merged with a crackle, both of them inside the other's defence. She was already launching her strike as she appeared. Ducking under the sword Cal was materializing her right hand slashed out as his free hand moved to block. She dived clear and came to rest her smile widening as she displayed her hand. There was a bluish tinge on one nail and a matching line on Calcite's cheek. He dropped the sword and reached up to touch the blood. His eyebrows rose but his own smile didn't falter. Azurite looked momentarily disconcerted as his gaze flicked down slightly. Her hand touched her neck and came away green. As her chin raised I saw the scratches on her neck. Cal held up the hand he had apparently sought to block her strike with. His fingers were tipped with razor edged thimbles. Azurite gave a rueful sigh and Cal phased them out. He was the first to speak.
She nodded, "Likewise. Looks like your reputation's justified."
Cal smeared the blood as he rubbed his cheek, hiding the fact the scratch was already healing. "Shall we call it a draw?" Her grin returned as she rubbed her neck. Just scratches, they'd heal in no time.
"I think we'd better or one of us is going to kill the other. Win or lose that defeats my purpose for being here." He smiled back and I cleared my throat.
"So you both agree it's over?" For the first time both were startled. I think they'd forgotten I was there. Calcite coughed to cover the moment.
"Ahem, Yes. Alright, Azurite you're in. You're a lot better that anyone I've got so you're my deputy. There'll be grumbling but I've already weeded out the worst troublemakers so there shouldn't be serious opposition. If you have to take someone out make it public and flashy enough to discourage anyone with similar sentiments. We don't have enough troops we can afford to lose too many." She nodded and he continued, "You've got power and skill but that doesn't necessarily translate into leadership. If this doesn't work we'll try you as a solo enforcer. Do you accept?"
"Good. Well to celebrate your new rank let's head over to Deathbridge and I'll buy you a drink. I could certainly use one." He frowned slightly, "While we're there we'll get you measured for a uniform."
"See what Pyrite's wearing?" It belatedly occurred to me I never had got around to changing. I hoped she was scowling at it rather than me.
"We all wear those?"
"Just the high rankers. One of Magnesite's brainstorms."
She sighed, "Well I knew it would be a tradeoff. You've got one just like that?"
"Not quite, mine has epaulette's." Azurite gave a laugh.
"Such as it is. I'll spring this on our beloved leader once you're outfitted. I very much doubt there will be a problem." She nodded, that was as a good a guarantee as you could hope for. "Which reminds me call him Lord Magnesite to his face. Unless there's a General around in which case use no titles. Never, ever call him Maggie." That got a smile, it was surprisingly warm. Gone almost instantly but I liked it.
I would have liked to join the group but Cal asked (ordered actually but that was for Azurite's benefit) me to head back to the stronghold and finish what I'd been working on. In other words let Ti know everything was okay and hold the fort until he got back. Probably for the best all things considered. With that we all ported to our destinations.
Deathbridge was a border town and trading center, built at the merging of two waterways. Supposedly the name dates back to the Final War and refers to the Khr'vorll settlement that once stood there. The story goes that our ancestors butchered so many of the natives that their corpses dammed the river. Letting our ancestors cross it to chase down those who survived the massacre without getting their feet wet. At least that's the story but so much history was lost during the centuries Beryl concealed Shaizaar once had natives that it might simply be a story that grew around the name. For all any of us knew it could just as easily have referred to a bridge that once stood over the rivers. One of those that wanderers who sought to cross were cast from if they failed to answer the challenge of the bridgekeeper. Supposedly there were several like that before royal decree abolished trollbridges.
Whatever the explanation the origin of the town's name mattered little to its inhabitants. None of them were there for historical interest, what mattered to them were its many advantages. It was located far enough from the Capital that Beryl had no interest in it as long as the tithe was paid. Geographically it stood exactly on the political border of Kel Jhedie and Kel Karthenax. If it belonged to Jadeite or Kunzite depended on which of them you asked. If you asked the inhabitants their answers would depend on who was listening. For the most part both Generals left it alone as a buffer zone between their territories. Besides there were occasions it was useful to have a freeport handy. All this meant Deathbridge was a town for making secret deals and gathering information. Several of the bigger youma bosses (including Magnesite) were based in the vicinity selling their services to whichever General offered the best advantage (or biggest threat) to them. They maintained an uneasy truce (most of the time) and kept a loose kind of order. Which meant a few steps short of total anarchy. The place was thick with intrigue, there were more spies per capita than probably anywhere. Except maybe Romulus.
Margrave was very in her element and had fit right in. Especially after circulating word about being under of Calcite's protection. Not only did that keep unwanted hands off it made her a tempting prize to those looking to learn what he had let slip when she was around. She had once remarked to me (after a not too serious seduction attempt) that it was amazing what those who thought they were manipulating her would betray without realizing it. Until the day the axe fell.
With her allegiance to Jadeite unknown except to Cal and me everyone thought she was just some sex crazed dumb as rocks catgirl who was always game for a tumble. Instead of an ambitious new agent who was learning fast and had her eye on becoming leader of Jadeite's eyes and ears in Deathbridge. Then parlaying that into eventually becoming his intelligence chief. She didn't miss much, you didn't last long in her business by overlooking things, which got me wondering. While she was currently out of town on business she couldn't possibly miss hearing that Calcite had been seen carousing with a new female deputy. That would have to get her worried. If Calcite got over being enraptured with her then she was going to have problems. She would have to do something about Azurite.
That thought concerned me for some reason but I couldn't think why. Of course Azurite looked capable of taking care of herself and she might be a lot less treacherous than Margrave. It could be a distinct improvement if Cal ditched Margrave in favour of Azurite. The logic was undeniable but the idea disturbed me. Ti noticed how subdued I was and wanted to know what was wrong. Without thinking I started telling her about the new humanic and she was instantly fascinated. She begin hinting that she'd like to meet Azurite so she'd know what she would look like when she grew up. She didn't understand my reluctance being too young to draw the distinction between humanics and renegades.
In hindsight it's ironic to remember telling her that while the three of us combined those traits the odds against it were incredible and without our blood relationship absolutely impossible. So unlike us the newcomer couldn't possibly be both. There's also a grim humour in recalling Calcite and Azurite successfully convincing each other that they were stone killers with icewater in their veins.
Memory ceases as I sense her teleport signature nearby and shift myself through space automatically. Part of my mind reaches out to sense any signs of pursuit. But most of it is fills with images of the past as my stubborn subconscious insists on replaying what happened later that cycle.
It was some time until Calcite returned. Mellow but far from drunk. After fending off Ti's questions about when she could meet the new humanic with very vague promises and warnings he kept her diverted until she fell asleep. Then at last he was able to talk to me.
"So what do you think of our new addition?"
"Beautiful ..." As soon as I said it I felt embarrassed but Calcite just nodded.
"Undeniably but ..." He paused a moment then asked, "Do you remember a few years back when that jewelsnake almost got me?" I nodded. I hadn't been there but I'd heard the story and seen the largest intact piece of the hide. Even with the blast damage it had been gorgeous, the scales shimmered with rippling rainbows until the mana was gone. Leaving a dull gray skin that I was never able to revitalize. Cal looked wistful.
"It was fast but it should never have been able to get that close. And it wouldn't ... except that it looked so incredible. That's part of their power, they fascinate their prey and I almost fell for it. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Almost entrancing." He paused a moment and sighed. "Azurite reminds me of it. Except that she's a lot more dangerous."
"Then why hire her?"
"Practically speaking I'd rather have her working for us than against us. Besides we can use her power."
"No." He shook his head he got serious. "I think she's a lot less likely to backstab me than anyone else in the group. Except you."
"Always a plus." He gave a harsh chuckle in response.
"That's the good news. The bad news is she's a lot more likely to challenge me to my face than anyone else."
"How do you know that?" He just shrugged.
"I can't explain it rationally. Call it an instinct."
Those same instincts had made him fall for Margrave but I held my tongue. I had seen something pass between them even if I didn't understand it. Instead I just said, "I wonder what Margrave's going to think of this." He looked blank for a moment then laughed.
"Relax, nothing like that happened. Even if I wasn't taken she wasn't kidding about treating unwanted advances like a challenge. There's a few guys with shattered bones back in Deathbridge who could tell you otherwise."
"We'd arranged to meet in a tavern after Sticher did her uniform fitting".
"The Disembowelled Gardinel". A rough place even by youma standards. I'd never dare visit with it without either Calcite or a platoon of bodyguards to back me up. "She's new so no one knew what she could do or that she was with me. Some loser with bad judgment tried a quick grope. He's lucky she had her shield up or he'd have got a lot worse. As it was she broke all four of his arms then mangled a few of his drinking buddies who tried to butt in. No one bothered her after that." I didn't doubt that. Especially after she joined Cal.
Rule or be ruled. Azurite obviously wasn't about to be anyone's plaything and a public display like that would mean word would get around. Since Cal had looked blank when I raised the subject she obviously hadn't made a move on him. Even without her "hands off" attitude it wouldn't have occurred to my cousin to try and start anything. He was, unfortunately, more than happy with Margrave. Despite having to share her. So his relationship with Azurite would be staying purely professional. That thought cheered me but gave a graphic demonstration of why I'm lousy at cards.
"Pyr, let me give you some unwanted advice. Don't even think about it!" He was right, of course. It was out of the question and I cursed my hormones for making me even consider the idea. I tried to think rationally.
"So what are you going to do about the challenge problem?" Cal got serious.
"She's smart so she won't try anything for a few months. Until she knows the ropes and thinks she can replace me without mucking things up and pissing Magnesite off. By which time I'll have to have convinced her that I'm a lot more powerful and meaner than she is or ever will be." I hoped he could manage that. Cal was tough as he had to be but she was pure youma, that meant he had to work at it but it came natural to her.
Things went smoothly enough the next few cycles. Magnesite didn't begrudge Calcite a lieutenant and while his troops grumbled nobody challenged Calcite's announcement. There was one disgruntled underling who tried to create a vacancy in Azurite's position. But after he wound up literally dust in the wind no one else tried anything. Calcite and Azurite's second sparring session was inconclusive and also ended in a draw. Despite which Cal was sure he could take her in a real fight. I only hoped she thought the same thing. At any rate it looked like things would be calm for a while. For a short time I was right. Then came the day of their third battle.
I had refereed it again and even to my unpractised eye Azurite's form was off. She had lost fairly decisively and was clutching her left forearm which had sustained a nasty gash. Blood dripped through her fingers but whatever was on her mind was a bigger issue than the pain. She acknowledged her defeat through a grimace as she tried to hold the wound closed. Calcite made no move to help, he was firmly in his cold bastard mode. Instead he just told me, "Patch her up. I have business to attend." With that he vanished and I unpacked the healing kit and approached her cautiously.
She glared at me and hissed, "I'm fine!"
I didn't dispute that, just told her, "I've got my orders from our commanding officer." She scowled but let me take a look. While there was quite a bit of blood there was no sign of serious damage. Close examination showed she was obviously a fast regenerator but even with that it would be a while before everything was back to normal. So I got busy with binding it closed, checking the coagulation and closure spells in the pads were fresh before bandaging them in place. I didn't offer a painkiller, I was sure that her reaction to an offer to drug her would be met violently. She stayed silent until I was almost finished then suddenly said, "You've known Calcite longer than anyone."
Cautiously I answered, "Since we were children. Our mothers kept in touch like a lot of brood siblings which brought us together. Early on we decided a partnership made sense. I have skills he finds useful and I get his protection. It's a good arrangement for both of us."
"Partners ... except he's the undisputed boss."
"Well some are always more equal than others. Besides who would take orders from me?" She nodded then seemed to be considering her words. It was a few moments before she spoke.
"Why is he wasting his time with some bottom of the barrel youma like that Margrave slut?" I believed I had just found the cause of Azurite's distraction. It also explained what Cal's other business was, Margrave was back in town. It was equally obvious Azurite had met her and disliked her more than the average youma. Her reaction had other implications that could complicate life even further. I ignored that and went into the official story.
"About a year back he saved her life so she was under obligation to him. After he decided the obligation was done he'd got rather used to her and she saw advantages in having him interested in her welfare. So she's made herself valuable to him. I gather she's got a lot of natural talent in the amatory arts and ... studies them extensively. Long as she keeps him happy he extends her his protection. Also since she's not part of Magnesite's troop it doesn't cause any complications among the ranks by giving a lower class trooper special privileges. So it's a good arrangement for both of them."
"Yes, I suppose it is." Her voice and tone were neutral. She flexed her arm and nodded. "Nice work." I shrugged.
"Not as neat as a healer but it'll do the job. I don't know your regeneration rate but leave it at least until tomorrow. Your uniform sleeves will cover the bandage so there's no worries about showing weakness. Besides even if word gets out no one would believe you came out of a fight with Calcite intact. Just getting out alive would impress anyone local."
She nodded again. "I suppose but keep your mouth shut." Well I hadn't expected thanks. She looked about to ask something else then shook her head and muttered, "Probably for the best." She gave a curt goodbye and vanished. I repacked the unused items in the kit then began to pick up the waste. Then paused. I was looking at several discarded pads I had her hold in place then discarded as I bound fresh ones to her arm. They were stained green, soaked with her blood. I had been going to dispose of them but a crazy idea came to mind. Instead of dumping them for the scavworms with the rest of the organic trash I was going to do a little test. The odds were ridiculous and the whole idea crazy from the very beginning. None-the-less I felt excited. What could it hurt? If I was wrong as seemed incredibly likely nothing would have changed. But I'd know for sure instead of having those ridiculous, far fetched daydreams.
Some months earlier I had succeeding in shocking my apparently unflappable cousin. He had said a few things I found rather alarming even if they were just idle musings. He had speculated on the possibility that Margrave was one of us and acting normal just as we did. I doubted he was crazy enough to reveal our nature to her but the possibility he'd get careless and do so unintentionally preyed on my mind. Fortunately I had a solution. Since the existence of Renegades became known they had been killed on detection. Sometimes quick, sometimes slow, it all depended on the circumstances. Those were the rules, if you find one kill the heretic! No one had ever thought to study Renegades to find any common factors. Luckily for us the founders had never bothered altering the rules. As in so many things they were set in their ways.
I was under no such rules and had three specimens (including myself) to study. Looking back I realize I was inventing an equivalent to the science of DNA tracing. Though my methodology differed from terrestrial by being firmly based on alchemy and other magical disciplines. After months of gruelling experimentation I had created a test that could always find the common factor the three of us shared even if I hadn't yet defined what it was.
At any rate after acquiring a tissue sample from Margrave under pretext of checking for a parasite infestation I had subjected it to my test. Which showed beyond a shadow of a doubt she was not one of us. I had given the news to Calcite expecting him to be disappointed. Instead he was horrified. Not about Margrave but about what I had done.
Calcite has always had a practicality I lack. It's one reason I owe him my life a dozen time over and why I've always followed his lead. He saw what I didn't, that I had created a means for Renegades to be detected at birth and slaughtered. Thankfully that knowledge was still confined to the two of us. At his insistence I destroyed my research notes and my equipment and we never discussed it again. No hint of what I had done remained. But I remembered the procedure and could reconstruct the equipment from memory. Which I did.
Setting up took me a week. Some of the spells were very delicate and I felt a lot edgier than usual so getting it right was difficult. At last it was done so I fished the blood samples out of stasis and let the construct start running. I was eager as a cub waiting for his first feastday despite the flimsiness of the evidence. Teleporting and fast healing seemed to be common factors but there were plenty with those powers who weren't Renegades. Still despite everything logic told me I was excited. I could hardly wait the three days it would take to produce my answer. That attitude is the only excuse for what I did on the third day.
For someone supposed to be a genius I have done some incredibly stupid things. This probably qualifies as the worst. Sadly my competence with magic does not extent to all aspects of my life. Which was how I made such a glaring error in timing.
As fate would have it Azurite and Cal were due for another sparring session that day. Whatever had been bothering Azurite wasn't in evidence but I thought I could detect an anger beneath her cold features. Perhaps connected to Margrave who had been sparing no pains to publicly wheedle reminders that she was under his protection out of Cal. Not that she had needed to, everyone in town already knew that and Azurite's relationship with Cal remained strictly professional. Unless Margrave knew something I didn't.
On the day in question my chronometer had just howled and remembered I was due to referee their engagement. Not that I'd ever had to act as such but I guess decorum insisted on one to make clear it wasn't a death match. I was about to depart from my lab when I heard a chime. The test was done. Eagerly I examined the results. I couldn't believe it. Despite it being just what I'd hoped for I couldn't believe it. Forgetting the duel I checked the setup looking for flaws. There were none. It was true. Azurite was a Renegade! This was fantastic! That's my only excuse for what I did next.
Grabbing the readout crystal (and completely forgetting they wouldn't be able to read it) I teleported to the site. Both of them were looked a little less cool than usual. Calcite scowled at me and Azurite was showing signs of impatience. By contrast I was grinning like an idiot. Azurite suddenly looked wary. If a youma looks happy something bad is probably about to happen to someone else. Calcite was probably worried I was cracking up but didn't show it. In a voice like ice he told me, "You are late and evidently intoxicated. Valuable as you are there are limits, cousin, to the amount of disrespect I will tolerate." I didn't care.
"Cal, I've got great news!" I was waving the crystal oblivious to their incomprehension. "I tested Azurite's blood ..."
"And she's a Renegade!" For an instant Azurite looked shocked. Then it was gone and all I saw in her face was rage. Her shield went to maximum and energy flared around her as winds whipped around her.
"YOU DARE CALL ME RENEGADE!"
It was about then I realized I had just accused her of the most capital crime of all in front of a hardened youma warrior. She had to either run and never stop or kill me and convince Calcite I was mad or lying. If that didn't work she'd have to take him out too.
By the time I'd worked that out Cal was already between me and her. I think that surprised her as she didn't try smearing me all over the landscape. "GET OUT OF MY WAY! NOBODY INSULTS ME LIKE THIS AND LIVES."
Cal didn't budge. Without taking his eyes off her he asked, "Are you sure. I mean absolutely sure?"
"Yes! I'd stake my life on it."
"You just did." Before I could ask what that meant he powered down and we stood defenceless before her. Azurite's anger was replaced by bewilderment and apprehension. Could Calcite really be so powerful that he didn't need to defend against her? Should she flee while she had the chance? Or was this some trick and she should strike before the trap snapped shut? While she was frozen in indecision Calcite acted but not in any way she had expected. Holding empty palms towards her he said simply, "Did you think you were the only one?" I kept my mouth shut, I'd already down enough damage today.
Her face twisted as a dozen emotions tried to make themselves heard. Amazement, disbelief, hope, anger, joy, fear ... Everything balanced on a knife edge. She could still go either fight or flight. I held my breath and waited.
Of course it was Cal who made it possible. She had seen him trust me enough to make himself vulnerable and knew he had a respect for her abilities she had not encountered before. That on top of her nascent attraction to him made her decision to take a chance. She powered down her shield and the air became still. Looking uncertain yet defiant she stood defenceless waiting for an attack. When none came her face filled with wonder. In a hesitant voice that was nothing like the confident tones I had come to know she ventured, "You ... you're really ...?"
Cal just nodded and said simply "Yes. Yes, we are." Her eyes glistened and she crossed the distance between them wrapping her arms around him. Years of repressed and hidden emotion erupted and she began to sob with joy. For the first time in her life she wasn't alone. Calcite held her and whispered, "Welcome, sister."
It's funny to think how the whole future can be shaped by a single word.
She didn't hear him but that was the key to all that followed.
I've wondered sometimes which of them had the harder life. Cal didn't just have to guard himself, he had both me and Titanite to watch out for as well. Azurite only had her own neck to worry about. But that was also the problem. Cal had us, she had no one and believed she would be alone for the rest of her life.
Azurite's sobs tapered off as her well honed survival instincts kicked. She had learned years before never to cry where others could see her though it's understandable that this occasion overrode her self-control. It was also far too public for Calcite's liking though he waited until she broke the embrace and stepped back to wipe her eyes. Cal told us that we would continue this privately back at his home where she could meet the last member of our group. Azurite looked momentarily apprehensive as fears about walking into a trap surfaced but she had gone too far to turn back now. Remembering I was present she made a quick apology for trying to kill me. I apologised for being so foolish in explaining matters. With that Calcite took Azurite's left hand, I took her right and we teleported. For the first time Azurite entered Calcite's stronghold.
Any lingering doubts she had were swiftly erased by a small bundle of energy named Titanite. No normal youma child could act like her. She was taken by Ti from the moment they met and Ti was equally delighted to finally meet the mysterious humanic she had heard about. She couldn't resist razzing me when she was told Azurite was a Renegade after all. It didn't take her long to become attached to Azurite or for Azurite to become as protective of Ti as we were. Nor for them to start calling each other sister. Cal never called Azurite sister again but that sums up how he's always thought of her. That's how we got into this whole mess. To him she's always been a close friend and a fellow warrior, it's never occurred to him to see her as anything more. Why was he so blind? But perhaps from the start it was doomed to unfold that way.
We spent hours swapping our life stories, saving the grimmer details for after Ti dozed off. Which took quite a while as she was really charged up. Though even in front of her Azurite could tell us how we had chanced to meet. Loneliness was the key to it all. She had learned young to conceal her feelings and mimic those around her. That must be true of all Renegades who survive childhood. There may have been others out there in the same trap. Alone yet knowing they are different and unable to search for others like them without revealing their natures. Which was equivalent to a death sentence. Azurite had resigned herself to never meeting other Renegades yet the loneliness ate at her. Azurite hungered for company yet what was the alternative? Unlike any hypothetical others (who may not have existed, we were a rare breed and most probably died young) she had a possible answer. It would only be a partial solution but she decided to risk it.
Her best option remained the life of a solitary trapper in the predator infested wilderness but she hadn't accepted that and delayed leaving Kel Jhedie as she sought an alternative. She found one. On hearing word that other humanics were gathering in Deathbridge she had begun the trek. Hoping that our similar appearance might indicate at least some similarities in nature. It wouldn't be much but perhaps it would be enough.
This had taken some time. Having never been there before she couldn't teleport to her destination. An old problem which Cal had dealt with by using conventional transport for excursions (while I watched Ti, ready to call him back in an emergency), establishing warp points as far afield as he could then teleporting back home. Back them my own blindjumping abilities were very limited and even today only works within a radius of about five kilometres.
Azurite had arrived with a glamour to cover her appearance and set about observing and gathering information. Learning Calcite was cruel but fair as long as you didn't cross him while Magnesite was about as trustworthy as a Gardinel's smile she had approached him. The challenge had shown her Calcite had a rough kind of honour and a respect for her abilities. The feeling was mutual and she had decided that was as much as she could hope for. So she had stayed. Which had turned out to be the luckiest decision of her life but she had almost destroyed the only other Renegades she would ever meet and doomed herself to a life alone. As she said this fresh tears glistened in her eyes and Ti took her hand.
"Don't cry Azure, you've got us now. Okay."
No one had ever called her that before and Ti went into a convoluted explanation with logic only a six year old could appreciate about our nicknames. Azurite dried her eyes, laughed and agreed that she was Azure from now on as far as we were concerned. Besides it sounded a lot better that "Red Eyes" the nickname she'd been given by the grunts. Ti cheered, Cal broke out the good stuff and we toasted the growth of our little group. For a time everything seemed perfect. For a time.
It was probably inevitable that Azure would fall in love with Calcite. They had so much in common, worked well together and had bonded as fellow warriors. They still sparred though now it was to hone their powers and learn to work as partners. They made a devastating combination and seemed perfectly matched. Cal was just what she needed and wanted. Equally inevitable was my falling in love with her even though I knew it was hopeless from the start.
She never told either of us her feelings for Calcite but I knew. My gift (though I now thought of it as a curse) was to observe and deduce. Cal was also good at putting patterns together. At least when it didn't concern women so it was no surprise he didn't pick up the hints. I wasn't the only one who knew, Margrave did. Actually that's inaccurate, she knew Azure wanted Calcite though she didn't know it was love. That's how their feud began as Margrave sought to keep Calcite for herself. Except for all her skills at keeping him entranced Azure had one weapon that could breach any web she wove around him. She loved Calcite and all she had to do was tell him that. I waited for that day to come. And waited and waited until I realized she wouldn't or couldn't. It took a while but at last I understood why she delayed.
We all have our weaknesses and they all stem from emotions. After so long alone and finally gaining friends Azurite had developed a terror of rejection. What if she bared her heart to Calcite and he rejected her? Told her he preferred her as a friend and comrade-in-arms and was quite happy with Margrave. That would have crushed her or so she thought so she waited. She had convinced herself that sooner or later Cal would recognise Margrave for what she was and ditch her. When he did she'd be waiting.
I couldn't believe Calcite didn't catch on to why Margrave and Azurite hated each other so much. How could he ignore her in favour of that malignant cat woman? I wanted to shake him and tell him he was a fool. He had her love and he didn't even notice. Oblivious to the one thing I wanted more than anything in the Kingdom. I almost hated him for that. Almost. But how could I hate the man who was my closest friend and to whom I owed my life a dozen times over? I couldn't nor could I tell Azure how I felt. She had made her choice and it was the right one. Calcite was the better man. I couldn't get between them.
I tried to resign myself to just being a close friend. It wasn't what I truly wanted but it would have to be enough. I don't know how many times I almost blurted out how I felt about her but I always managed to stop myself. I wasn't who she wanted and I couldn't fault her choice. Calcite was everything I wasn't; charismatic, strong, a leader, practical, a warrior, but most of all a survivor. Hard as he had to be but he hadn't let it change him inside. He was my superior in everything except abstract knowledge and even there he could better judge its applications. By any criteria he was the right choice and she was just what she needed to save him from his one flaw. His complete cluelessness about women. Unfortunately that was also what kept him blind to Azure's feelings.
I knew all this but deep down I couldn't accept it. I should have told her I knew and urged her to tell him how she felt. Supported her in declaring her feelings. But I couldn't go that far. Selfish as it was I stayed silent and hoped the same thing that she did. That the one I loved would notice me. We both hoped that and each of us feared it was hopeless. It stayed that way for months, until Feast day rolled around. That was when I learned getting your heart's desire might not solve anything. Instead it made things much more complicated.
The Feast of Metallia was the sole youma celebration. Beside being an occasion to curse Serenity and pledge ourselves to the conquest of Earth it also marked the end of winter. The energy bands that surrounded Shaizaar would begin their cycle anew and warm our world. Winter would retreat from everywhere save the arctic regions and another year would begin.
Azurite wasn't enjoying the festival though she acted the part in public and when Calcite was around. In truth the celebration seemed to bring her down especially whenever she saw Margrave and Calcite together. That spoiled my own enjoyment and I resolved to bring her out of it. I thought I knew something that might do it.
She was more than willing to come with me when I mentioned I had an alternative if she was interested. I had already visited my chosen sight, set a warp point and enclosed it in a ring of wards to keep the wildlife out. I hoped my calculations were precise, the timing was as crucial as the location. She let me handle the jump without a qualm though she was obviously a bit surprised to find us in the wilderness. She must have been wondering why I'd brought us to the frigid wastes but all she said was she hoped the surprise was worth the two of us freezing in darkness. I asked her to be patient a few moments longer and crossed my fingers.
The renewal of the bands was an annual phenomena but there were some variations within them that could be witnessed and calculated. This one had last occurred 20 years ago according to the Kel Vurak celestial archives and the cycle should bring it back tonight according to my calculations. Above us the sky flared into a spectrum of colours as the bands re-energized. Azurite forgot the cold and watched in wonder as rainbows of light chased one another across the sky. At length she found her voice.
"Abyss, that's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!"
"It pales next to you." I suddenly felt her eyes on me and realized I hadn't just thought it, I'd said it out loud. Despite the cold I sweated and kept watching the sky. After a moment she returned her attention to the celestial show.
All too soon it gave way to the familiar dull glow leaving just the memory of the spectacle. We both stood there lost in thought for time before Azurite suggested we head back to her place to warm up and have a drink. I had become aware of the cold again and readily agreed.
She teleported us back to her quarters in Deathbridge and heated some cider. Once we were rid of the chill she broke out an excellent bloodwine. As we often did we talked, this time a lot about what we had witnessed and the theory behind it. I realized I was doing most of the talking but she seemed content to listen, adding the odd insightful comment or question. At last I realized how late it was and remembered I did have some research that needed doing in the morning so I should take my leave and get a little sleep before I got to work. Besides she looked ... I wasn't sure how to describe it. Undecided perhaps. Probably wanted to turn in but wasn't ready to ask me to leave. So I should depart and let her get some sleep. I put down my glass and stood.
"Well, I should be going."
"Do you really want to leave?"
It took a few moments for me to register I had heard that. Thunderstruck I stared at her. She was watching me carefully, waiting for a response. I heard myself say, "No, it's nothing that can't wait" but it seemed to come from a long way off.
"Right ... well that's settled then." Azurite was still watching me, I hadn't seen her look that uncertain since Calcite told her she wasn't alone. There was an awkward pause as neither of us knew what to say next. We stood on the brink of something that would change our relationship forever and didn't know how to proceed. I gathered my courage and tried to find the instincts that had given me the answer earlier. In the end there were no words. Instead I sat down beside he, took her in my arms and kissed her. She responded in kind and everything seemed to flow naturally from there.
Though neither of us were virgins in a sense it was our first time. Our other lovers (few and far between in both cases) had been normal youma so we had to keep masks between us and them at all times. Being careful not to say the wrong thing, never able to let our guard down. Until now. All my fears that she would never think of me as more than a friend were gone. I had no concerns, everything was perfect. We loved each other and had told each how we felt. I didn't concern myself with why, didn't ask about Calcite, didn't question my good fortune.
I should have.
Even if we had intended to keep it a secret we'd have failed. Margrave's senses and observational powers were exceptional, she broke the news to Calcite soon as she scented us. Almost before we knew what was happening he was congratulating us. Telling us he'd thought all along we'd make a great couple and had been wondering how long before we noticed each other. We both started to say something but in the end just agreed with him that we should have got together sooner. I suppose the signs were there even then but I chose not to see them. But I couldn't fool myself forever.
It was some time before I realised she still loved Calcite. I didn't want to believe it but eventually I couldn't deny it any longer. We were lovers and I didn't doubt she had feelings for me but he was the one she truly wanted. Again I was a coward, I didn't confront her. I should have, should have told her I knew how she felt about him and made her to choose between us. I didn't dare, I knew she'd pick him. He was still the best choice and I couldn't bear to lose her. I tried to convince myself that even if I held second place in her heart that would be enough for me. I also told myself that if I waited she would give up on him and be content with me. I made myself believe it and prayed to I don't know who that Calcite and Margrave remain lovers. If they did then Azurite wouldn't tell Calcite the truth. I knew it was wrong to want that but I didn't care. I loved her even if I was the wrong choice.
I got my wish, they stayed together until the day the Kingdom fell. We thought her dead and Calcite mourned for a time. Even after he pulled himself out of his depression Azure stayed with me nor did she try to step in when he started dating Mai. I really thought she was giving up on him especially after the breakup. Cal's been single ever since, she's had a hundred opportunities but never said anything to him. I made a serious mistake. I allowed myself to hope. Forgetting how much it hurts when dreams are shattered.
At last I realize I was rejoicing far too soon. Now that we've found Margrave I realize my hopes were in vain. I saw how she looked at Margrave and I knew it was going to be the same as it had been for years. She'd stay with me but envy Margrave and dream of being in her place. Once I could lived with that but to have my hopes raised then dashed was more than I could stand. Suddenly it wasn't enough to be number two anymore. I wanted to shake her and make her tell me why I wasn't good enough ... no I didn't, I just thought about it but I could never hurt her. In the end I just ran. It hurt too much to stay and watch what happened now Cal knew. I'm not going anywhere, just away. Why won't she leave me alone? Go back and be with him. Give me the time and space I need to learn to live with it!
I've spent too long soliloquising because suddenly something unseen slams me into the alley wall. I'm too dazed from the impact to teleport as she stalks over, grabs my shirt and hauls me to my feet. "YOU IDIOT! KEEP THIS UP AND JADEITE'S GOING TO SPOT YOU AND THEN WE'RE ALL SCREWED! WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!"
The question penetrates the haze in my head. My God, what have I been doing! I'd forgotten he's out there somewhere, convinced there's only two other survivors of the Dark Kingdom. I haven't even been shielding my jumps. If he's detected us ... My brain starts working and I realize he hasn't yet or he'd be here. The same way Azurite found me by tracking the teleport traces! Stupid bloody amateur! What the hell was I thinking! Too busy running to take basic precautions ... no wonder I wasn't good enough for her. I've got about as much survival instinct as a security guard in a red shirt!
My vision focuses again and I'm able to make out Azurite's face. I was expecting her to look as furious as she sounded but instead she looks stricken. Now I'm bewildered despite the headache fading. She half whispers, "No, this isn't how I wanted it ..." She releases me and I slump back against the wall. She's much quieter now, "I didn't mean to get mad but you would stop and ... please, I just want to ... I have to talk with you. Just don't run ... just listen to me and then I swear you can go and I won't follow." I don't know what to say to her. "Do I have to get down on my knees and beg you to stay?" There's a hint of fire in her voice but then she just looks resigned. "You've got every right to ask that ..." I don't understand until I realize she's about to kneel.
"No, wait! You don't need to ... I ... I'll listen." It's hard to say but maybe it's best this way. Once she's said what she must she can start her new life with Cal.
Fortunately this time there were no witnesses when we appeared so we don't need teleport somewhere quieter. Even so it's best to relocate so we leave the alley by the novel expedient of walking. Azure spots a coffee shop that's more than half empty and we find a corner booth. We just order the house blend and wait until it's delivered before saying anything. I use the time to weave a blocking field around us. We're as secure as we can be from detection so nobody's likely to disturb us. I can't really think of that as a good thing. Our coffee arrives and I try to steel myself for what will follow.
I know what she's going to say so I let her start. She fiddles with her mug and I get to see her look uncertain for the third and final time. Then she takes a deep breath and begins the "we can still be friends" speech.
"Pyr ... I ... I never dreamed you knew that ... that's no excuse but I ... we ... I never meant to hurt you ... if you'd just said something ... no, I can't blame you. It's all my fault. If I had just ... oh hell, I wish I was like Margrave!" That's startling enough to shock me out of my funk.
She flushed, "I don't mean like that! I mean ... she can say whatever she thinks and not give a damn about consequences. I ... this isn't easy for me. I grew up hiding my feelings and I think I hide from them. I ... I've let this go on far too long. Cal ... I always used Margrave as an excuse for not saying anything. Then it was because he was getting over her death. After that it was because Mai was there. Since then I've been telling myself he needs time to get over a broken heart. All of it excuses for not acting so I didn't have to face it."
It? What is she talking about? "Azure, I understand you were waiting for the right time to tell him. I always knew this day would ..."
"Would you let me finish and stop trying to dictate who I'm in love with!" She takes a moment to rein in her temper before it erupts and continues with her goodbye. "You have no idea how many times I asked myself why I couldn't be happy with what we had ... That's not what I mean! I was happy but it didn't seem to be enough! I could never answer that. Until now. Now I'm starting to figure it out. I think ... I think part of it was someone had to save him from Margrave but the real reason ..." She stops as she tries to pick the right words. I steel myself for what will follow.
"If I'd admitted to myself that I never had a chance with Calcite I'd have to face the fact that I was wrong all along. That I'd been fooling myself for years and I'd never loved him ... not that way ... not the way I love you. But I'd lived the fantasy too long and couldn't bear admitting I could be wrong about my deepest feelings. I'm too damn stubborn. Stubborn enough that I couldn't admit my feelings for Cal were based on a mix of lust, gratitude, friendship, warrior bond and passion which I was too soft headed to be able to tell from love. Even when I'd had that for years."
She didn't just say that! I'm just fantasising and hearing what I want to hear! I realize I'm holding my breath and gulp for air. "What ... just what are you saying?" She reaches across the table and takes my hands. After a moment she looks me in the eyes and speaks softly but with utter sincerity.
"Pyr, I love you and only you. I'm just sorry it took me so long to realise that."
The room seems to whirl around me. She didn't ... she couldn't have said that. She followed me to tell me goodbye. I know that. "But Cal ..." She cuts me off with a shake of her head.
"If I'd met him before Margrave then maybe we could have had a future together but it was already too late. Cal loves me but it's as a friend and a comrade-in-arms. Or as a sister, that's how he's always seen me. He's been telling me that all along if I'd had the wit to see it."
I still can't assimilate what she's told me. It's everything I always wanted to hear but it's too unexpected to take in. So I say something stupid. "But why? Why pick me over him when he's the better choice?"
"Better? Better according to who?"
"He's stronger, practical, a survivor, a good man ..."
For a moment I think she's going to get angry again but she just sighs. "You mean the real reason you've put up with me mooning over Calcite all these years is you were sure I'd inevitably pick him if it came to a choice?" I nod and she shakes her head in disbelief. "Pyr, you are an idiot!" Then she chuckles, "And I'm an idiot for dreaming about Calcite when there wasn't a hope in hell it would ever go anywhere. So we're perfectly matched after all." I finally start to really take it in. She didn't follow me to say goodbye. She ... her judgement's not as good as I thought!
Before I can say anything else idiotic she resumes talking. "As for Cal being the better choice I don't see how you figure that. Alright so you can't tear a tank apart with you bare hands but why do you need to? You've got us to handle that and we've got you to handle the things we can't. Who got us out of the Dark Kingdom? Who opened the gate to this world? Who's always come through when we need some new miracle gizmo? You're not strong like Cal or me but it's all relative! We've got strengths you can't match but that works both ways. I never thought I'd have to say this to you but you've got to get over that macho bullshit! So you needed Cal to haul you out of trouble in the Dark Kingdom and decided that made you inadequate. It didn't. There were things you couldn't handle but he needed you just as much. We all needed each other. More than that I need you and I hope you need me just as much!"
She just looks at me to see if I'm taking it in then coyly adds, "This would be a perfect time to kiss me. Assuming you still want me." There's a hint of apprehension in the last bit as she wonders if I'll tell her Cal is still the wisest choice. But I'm not that big a fool and I'm greedy enough to want her all to myself. So I lean forward and quiet her fears.
We break before too long. Sweet as it was there's still so much to sort out. Now I've remembered the situation I ask, "Should we head back?"
"No." She's very definite. "We've barely begun to sort this out. There's still a lot we need to talk about and until we've resolved this we're no use to anyone. We'll just have to trust Cal to keep a lid on things until we're ready."
"He will. We can always count on him."
She nods and we both wonder what to say next. An odd thought comes to mind and Azure must notice my quizzical expression. "What is it?"
"It's crazy but ... I feel the sudden urge to sing, 'To dream the impossible dream'." She shakes her head.
"Please don't. It's time I gave up on impossible dreams in favour of the reality before me."
"I'd like that."
There's so much to say, so much we kept from each other for years but suddenly I'm not scared of it anymore. I was so afraid this was the end but it's a new beginning. Perhaps not for very long for we still have to face Jadeite and there's no way to predict how that will go. But whatever comes I know we will face it together. Now and forever.
MegaTokyo and Bubblegum Crisis created by Sonoda Kenichi and are the copyrighted property of Youmex & AIC.
Jadeite, Kunzite & the Dark Kingdom created by Naoko Takeuchi.
However the DKR & related characters are my creations.
Comments on this or any of my stories always welcome. Email me at: email@example.com
Right now it's back to work on "BGC:Hurricane Season"
Jan 27 '98