a/n: *chanting to self* I will finish this story.. I will finish this story..
The Brave Don't Run
"If I'm right—and let's hope I am—we'll manage a few days on the ship before we reach the unmapped portion of the sea," Josh was explaining to the Captain. "It's going to be a bit tricky to communicate back—"
As soon as we arrived at the cove where the ship was docked, Josh had begun to give out instructions for the journey. Then the Captain delegated the orders to his men—the handful that were left. Not surprising, some had suddenly run off or had chosen not to come. With the odds of the journey ahead, I couldn't blame them myself.
Gazen was overseeing the unloading of Dia from her cradle so from here on she would be able to fly freely as we set out on the water. It was a good chance for her to stretch her wings as well since her injury the week before.
Gazen was patting her head as she stepped off the cradle, "You're such a pansy. I told ya we're gonna have our work cut out for us," he said good-naturedly. The great bird let out an excited squawk and once Gazen gave his signal, Dia shot off high into the air and began soaring in circles above us.
I paused to shield my eyes from the sun to watch Dia soar in circles above us, squawking happily. I beamed up at her, before continuing to walk up to Lance who was standing near the shore, looking out to the horizon over the water as the waves slapped against the big rocks at his feet. He noticed me walk up and glanced down to give me a brief smile.
"Have you ever been this far on this side of Arcadia before?" I asked him.
Lance shook his head. "Not since the recent war," he said with a sigh. "It is a shame for it is quite a beautiful place, despite its inhabitants," he said with a sly grin.
I grinned at him before I followed his gaze. Of course having been stuck in a Forest of green trees my entire life, I had always been fascinated with the sea. The endless waves of blue changing hues as far as the eyes can see. When you look hard enough, you can almost see the line where the sky meets the water. It was beautiful. I took a deep breath, taking in the salty air for the first time.
"Do you think the boy is right?" Lance spoke up. "Is there a way to cross from this shore to the land of my kingdom? Will we find the Land of the Mist in that pursuit?"
I pursed my lips. "I think," I started knowingly, "if the boy—wants something bad enough, he'll make a way."
Lance glanced down at me with a catch on the smile that he was not showing. "You have developed feelings for him." He said it as a statement, not a query.
"What?" my eyes almost popped out of my head. "That is—just absurd—," I tried to argue some more, and yet I found myself speechless.
"It's all right," he assured me, looking back out into the water. "My entire life I've dedicated to searching for you. Never once in all the days of my study and research did I ever think I would succeed. I knew you as either a mere myth or possibly long dead. I suppose it didn't matter in the long run if I found you at all…that search gave my life meaning." He smiled down at me again. "But standing here now, on this foreign shore with you, it is my privilege…"
There's nothing more I want…
I looked back up at him, now stunned, my forehead creasing at the weight of the words he didn't speak aloud.
"Do not frown," Lance said, raising his hand to touch my cheek. "I am here for you."
"HEEEY! WRAP IT UP!"
Josh yelled at us from the ship's stern, sounding more irritable than usual.
Lance looked over and acknowledged him with a short wave. "We should go," he glanced back down at me and stopped, looking concerned. "What is it?"
I had closed my eyes at his seemingly familiar touch. Dantilian… I let out my breath, before shaking my head to dismiss his worry. "Nothing," I replied. "I'm ready," I said, taking his hand to head back to the ship.
Being on a ship was another entirely new experience for me. Every big wave that crashed against the side of the ship making it list to one side or another, the spray of the sea waters reaching the top decks, the permanent smell of salty air.
It had been just been a day and already before us lay a whole carpet of nothingness—nothing but the line that divided the sky and the waves—as if we were headed nowhere. No more land. No color. Just the vague gray horizon. I was a little nervous about encountering the edge of the world—a little nervous, a little curious. Might it be, if we crossed it, we would end up outside the world itself? What would it look like? Could one possibly see the stars more clearly at that vantage point? Could one have a better view of other worlds?
We were again traveling the route of uncertainty—which seemed to be Josh's consistent course, but which he didn't seem to mind one bit. He would do anything and go anywhere, if it meant he was one step closer to finally going home.
I leaned against the railing on the ship's deck, looking out at our destination. The Great Star was now slowly dipping down into the water off to our left, making the deep blue waters in a distance seem darker, making the waves look more treacherous, but still seemingly no match for our big ship.
I thought of my Forest, the thick green depths of trees…the calm crystal blue waters of the Lake. I thought of the rare occasion that a solitary bird flew past—the only other sign of life—before it instantly flew away. I thought of the day that I had lost the relic…when I had thought about my freedom and what it meant, what I was going to do with it. Then I thought of the past weeks when life had been anything but the dull day-to-day of being a Forest guardian.
I had seen nothing else, been nowhere else, until the day that I failed my life's purpose. Only to attain a new mission. This… I closed my eyes and breathed the air in deeply. And he who made all this possible…
Help me get the relic…then you'll have no need to stick around here in this boring forest…
I said no, I thought, dropping my gaze to the ship's railing, but here I am…
I sensed someone nearby and turned around. Josh cleared his throat upon meeting my gaze. "Hey," he greeted, coming up the steps. "Sightseeing?" he prompted.
I hadn't seen much of Josh since we had broken port. The ship being shorthanded, Josh had taken to organizing the men himself, planning the route, making sure we were going the right way—or at least the right way that he thinks. I managed a slight smile, gesturing ahead of us. "Not much to see."
He grinned. "Well yeah…" he walked over tentatively, his hands in his pockets.
"How are we doing?" I asked, referring to our journey.
"Oh," he shrugged, "well, as good as it could be I guess. Captain says it'll be difficult to gauge our progress from here on since we've just run out of landmarks and it's far too cloudy for stars, but we'll be okay," he assured confidently. "Don't worry."
"I know. I wasn't worried."
Josh stepped up to the railing beside me.
I tilted my head to regard his carefully blank expression. "You are sad…" I observed, slightly surprised. "We're going to find it, aren't we?" I smiled as if to assure him. "I can feel it."
He nodded slowly, still silent.
I pursed my lips and tried to cheer him up. I nudged him with my elbow. "Come on," I coaxed. "You must be excited. What does it feel like to be this close to finally going back to your home?"
He chuckled. "To tell you the truth," he shrugged, "I don't feel any different. I've been in this world for so long, chasing the same thing day after day…after a while, you get used to disappointments. I don't think I'll ever feel like I'll be going home soon—until you know, until I am."
"Well, do not worry," I spoke up. "This time we're all here to help you. Did you notice that there is now an entire ship of people going off into the unmapped waters on an impossible quest to find an unreachable land that does not exist just for you?" I teased.
That made him laugh. "Well, when you put it that way," he remarked sarcastically.
I grinned, sighing. "What do you think the edge of the world will be like?" I wondered eagerly, looking far out into the horizon as the sky began to turn my shade.
He watched me, with a half-smile. "What do you think it would be like?"
I met his gaze enigmatically before relaying, "Lance thinks the edge of the world is a cliff that goes off into the black void of night with stars as big as apples that one could hold in one's hand."
Josh's smile faded for a brief instant before he smirked, "Guy's not too sharp for a king, is he?"
I creased my forehead slightly to disagree. "I think he's as close to any scholar as Arcadia could have."
"I still think he's a dickhead."
I rolled my eyes, stifling my chuckle. "You've never liked Lance."
"Yeah, ever since he threw us in the dungeon. What's—that all about?" Josh kidded, making a face.
I burst out laughing. "Oh come on, that was just a mistake," I dismissed good-naturedly. "He thought we were spies. Besides, we're all friends now, aren't we? And hasn't he been helping us with this mission? He's going to help us find the Land of the Mist," I reminded him.
Josh shrugged noncommittally, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with my statement.
I looked back out to the horizon, musing out loud once again. "But it is bizarre though, don't you think? To cross the sea from Erisea and then end up on Cephiron—I mean it's just too strange to even think about," I shook my head in bafflement.
He shot me a mysterious look. "Back on Gaea, we'd already figured out the secrets of the edge of the world long ago. Suffice to say, it shook everyone up pretty bad. You guys probably aren't supposed to know yet—not from me at least. Anyway," he shrugged after a pause, "I've already disrupted the way of life on this world more than I really should have."
I let out a chuckle. "I believe that is an understatement, sir. Whatever shall we do once you leave?"
Josh grinned, before his expression faded into a sort of vague look before looking away. "Well," he shrugged, "you know," he said with a catch in his tone, "you'll have Lance."
I had to laugh again at his intended comparison. "Lance isn't that least bit like you," I noted. "You always seem have trouble following you around—by the buckets, by the armies, by the villages—" I stopped short, my mirth fading, as Josh had neither replied nor defended himself and his expression had grown more sullen. I creased my forehead. "I was only teasing," I told him. "Have I upset you?"
He looked over to meet my worried gaze and held it. His gaze was warm and I could tell he was holding something back. For a moment, I felt as though I was enveloped by his presence, his nearness, as I stared up into his eyes, and I felt my breathing become slower. He was studying my face intently as though trying to read my mind but before he or I could say anything more, we heard footsteps coming up the stairs to the upper deck.
I broke the gaze to look over my shoulder in time to see Lance coming up from the side. He walked up to us near the railing slowly, giving me a smile when I met his gaze. "It's getting dark," he said to me, not acknowledging Josh. "We should be getting back inside."
I smiled back at him, nodding. "All right," I replied, taking the arm he offered. "Josh," I glanced up, "are you coming?"
Josh gave us a wry slight smile, leaning back against the railing casually. "You guys go," he bade with a nod.
I creased my forehead, watching Josh over my shoulder as Lance led me towards the stairs. Josh held my gaze in return, for the longest time…until the upper deck was no longer within my view.
* this chapter's title brought to you by Midnight Youth's latest album