Atop a small cliff sat a decrepit temple, overlooking the port. The temple was a grey eyesore compared to the colorful buildings of which the town largely consisted. It was once the main place of worship for the Invaders centuries ago, when the Greater Powers, the first gods, still ruled the land. When the locals threw out the Invaders, the temple was discarded and left to the travelers that came to the city-state. The temple was converted to a place for foreigners to pray and make offerings to their foreign deities. The locals built their own temple, dedicated to their patron god, on the summit of a hill behind the port. The architecture of the Invaders' temple was very simple and plain compared to the locals' temple. The gilded surface of the old temple's pillars had been chipped by the elements. The fierce expressions of the stone guardians had been softened by time. While the locals built their temple with all the care and elaboration of architecture they could finance, the dilapidated temple on the cliff was built with only one room that contained faceless statues of the Greater Powers lined against the farthest wall of pillars. Small, crudely-made altars had been placed throughout the room.

Em kneeled in front of one. Her bent legs trembled and her straight back ached from having been in that position since morning. Her eyes were trained dutifully onto the blue candle whose melted wax had pooled around its base and whose flame was slowly dying out. Half of her carved name on the candle had melted away, leaving only –lia, which meant "weary" in tarimae. Em couldn't agree more with this strange coincidence. She was physically and mentally exhausted from deliberating in vain on a prayer that would convey the questions burning in the back of her mind, but at the same time, would not offend her goddess.

When she could no longer keep her forehead from touching her folded hands, she gave up for the day. Em unfolded her limbs and slid off the bench before blowing out her candle. A yawn was stifled while simultaneously she tried to massage her aching joints without looking impolite. Looking beyond the Greater Powers, she was greeted by the sun's yellow face, hanging inches above the horizon line in front of a dark orange background. The thin fabric of her chiton swished around her legs as she walked to the entrance. When she emerged out of the crumbling portico, her eyes fell immediately on the back of a familiar figure sitting on the temple's sunken steps. Beside him was a burlap sack. Hearing someone draw near him, the man looked over his shoulder. Their dark eyes met.

"Why are you here?" Her eyes went to his torso, particularly the right side, where underneath the blouse his wound was bandaged. "Joshua said you have to rest yourself for three more days. You could rip those stitches he put in, if you haven't already climbing up here," she added.

Roger stood up and patted down his trousers, a look of indifference on his pale face. "I heal quickly," he said gruffly. "The blade did not go deep enough to make an invalid out of me." No one dared say Pontius's name since that day the Reaper was sunk. The crew did it because no one wanted to remind the captain that someone had succeeded in stealing something from him, no matter that he got it back. Roger did not allow the name to pass through his lips out of consideration for Em.

"No one tells me what to do."

Em shook her head in wonder. "How long have you been sitting here?" she asked. "Was it to wait for me?"

"I couldn't pull you out of there without incurring the High Priestess's wrath and that of your gods," he said seriously without really answering either of her questions. It was obvious that he didn't care about consequences. He did care about seeming to care, however, which is why he had not gone inside.

"You didn't have to wait for me. I would have been back for dinner," said Em.

At that moment, the High Priestess appeared behind her. The large woman stared down at the two with diamond-hard blue eyes. She told them that unless they wanted a marriage contract, they must leave without delay, for the wind drifted their voices inside and disturbing patrons praying closest to the entrance.

"Who among us speaks of marriage?" snarled Roger. "This sort of audacity is insulting. As if I would marry a child."

Em stepped back as if she'd just been slapped. "Child? I am not as young as you think. I have lived eighteen years," she retorted.

"And I have lived seven and twenty years," Roger replied. "What had possessed me to believe that there could be something between us, only Calypso knows." He knew he'd made a grave error once those words left his scarred lips. Not because the holy woman began to scold him about using a deity's name in vain, but the hurt brimming Em's dark brown eyes pained him to watch.

"Fine!" she shouted, drowning the rest of the High Priestess's words. "You never loved me, I can see now as plainly as that. But you could have had the decency to push me away instead of letting me hope." Missing the guilt that passed over his pale face, Em picked up her skirts and leaped down the stairs. She dodged his hands as he tried to catch her in flight and kept running until the cliff's rocks hid her.

The High Priestess turned to Roger with her slender arms crossed over her bosom. "I hope your goddess has more patience with you than she does," she said.

Roger tore his eyes away from the last spot he'd seen Em. He raised his hackles at the woman whose robes were darned and patched. She stepped back up the stairs, eyes frozen on the fang that did not adorn his left ear. Vindicated, Roger bent and picked up the burlap sack before starting down the cliff.

Following Em to the dockyard was quite easy. She had left a trail of breadcrumbs for him in the various forms of annoyed vendors with goods having been knocked off their stands and angry shoppers bending down to pick up their groceries. It wasn't any more difficult to find a fisherman who saw to where she'd run. She cried silently at the end of a dock by herself. She didn't become aware of his presence until he sat down next to her on the other side of the wooden platform.

Em hid her surprise and wiped away her tears angrily. She refused to look at him. "You should have left me to die if you were only going to be false in the end."

Roger tried hard not to roll his eyes. "Belay that. I won't tolerate your womanly theatrics."

She turned to him, red in the face. "Theatrics or in all seriousness, you just called me a child without even a blink of remorse. You demeaned my feelings, sir. I may not have lived as long as you have, but my feelings are true," Em insisted.

There was a short silence. Roger's muffled voice was soft when he spoke. "Do you really believe I felt no remorse for what I said? I do, but now that we've finally broached the subject, we must be logical. Your feelings are true for now, but how long will they last? You are still young. I refuse to wait for the day when you are stolen from me again, and next time, for good." Roger turned away, facing the water stretched out in front of them. Before he did, Em saw the bitterness reflected in his black eyes. "I don't know if I'd be able to stop myself when that happens."

Em felt a cold chill go down her spine at those dangerous words. At the same time, she felt her heartstrings being tugged. She scooted across the distance that separated them on the dock before reaching up to his head and cupping his face with both her hands. She turned those eyes on her again. "And you know what love is?" she asked, shaking her head. "I don't throw around my affections so easily. When I say I love you, I truly do. I cannot even imagine myself leaving your for another man."

"You only say those words because you have known no other man," Roger said. Cicero's face flashed across his mind, stirring the flames of envy and hatred for the youth. He tried to pull away but she held on to his face and leaned up to kiss his lips. When she pulled away, she said, "Do you know how I know my feelings for you are real? Because I believe that love does not always need the experience of having known other people to be there for a single person. And think about my life before I met you, Roger. I could go home and marry any eligible man. It would be easy to do. I would never have to live any difficulties with that sort of man. Yet living a less difficult life is not the same as living a happy life. I choose you because my life is happier with you, even if there are more trials."

Roger looked down at her for a moment before he nodded his head. "Did your goddess answer your questions?"

Em smiled wryly at his sudden change of topic. Her hands slid off his face because she felt the nervous twitches in his jaw beneath her fingertips. "I didn't know how to ask without offending Her," she confessed. "I still would like to know why I have been pulled onto the lap of the gods."

Roger frowned. "Perhaps it was for the best that you couldn't. The ways of the gods aren't meant to be questioned. Have you considered that Helena has chosen you especially from any other Tarymian and took you away from your home in order to save you from death?"

Em bit her bottom lip. Anything that brought thought to her half-sister still distressed her. She looked at Roger before laying her head on his shoulder. He stiffened. "I know this must be uncomfortable for you, but please, just this once, let me find solace in you," she whispered, her voice thick with unshed tears. Roger was thinking of putting his arm around her shoulders when suddenly, there came a loud splash from the water. Em's yelp of fright was drowned out by twittering familiar to the sound birds made. She threw herself into Roger's lap and buried her face in his chest.

"What was that?"

Though Roger felt awkward with her sitting on him, the corners of his lips twitched with amusement. "Scared, Princess?"

Em sat up, blushing with embarrassment. She saw his half-smirk and slapped him across his chest lightly. "Don't call me that! What was that thing? It just leaped out of the water and then flew away as quick as the wind!"

"Water swift," was Roger's reply. He looked to where the strange bird had disappeared with a thoughtful expression. "Yet these particular birds should be hibernating in the water by this season. They come out in spring once it gets warmer."

Em looked at him quizzically. "Hibernating in the water?" she echoed. "Birds can't live in water."

"These ones can and do. Their wings are made up of feathers and scales so they have both abilities to fly and swim. They use cutaneous respiration like frogs or turtles that allow them to breathe through their skin, so they can live on land when they're not hibernating in the ocean," Roger explained. "Water swifts are common here and rare in other Politickan islands. I hear they make fine pets, which makes them lucrative commodities."

Em shook her head at the thought of such free creatures shut in cages. Then a thought about the water swifts occurred to her. "Is this why this city-state is called Swiftling Island?" she wondered aloud. She caught Roger with a look that told her plainly that he thought the question was completely idiotic, and she sniffed. "I wasn't asking you," she defended. Her next question did. "Where do water swifts live during the spring and summer seasons?"

"Wherever they want to live," Roger answered with a shrug. " "Tis their choice. Water swifts can choose to live at land or at sea. When a mate is involved, the male lives where she lives."

Em tilted her head back in order to look into Roger's black eyes. She saw the water swift in those shadowy tunnels, which was different among the bird species as Roger was different among humans. She wondered how he had felt the very first time he discovered the water swifts and had been told what they were and how they lived. Roger Swift would have been a better name for him than the awkward-sounding Roger Robinson.

"It's impolite to stare, Princess." Roger's muffled voice interrupted her thoughts. "Hasn't anyone taught you that?"

Em smirked and slid off his lap. "Do something spontaneous," she demanded.

A charcoal eyebrow rose. "What?"

Em grinned. "You always calculate your moves and almost always calculate every word you say. I want to see you do something out of character from you for once." The confusion on Roger's face drained away like water from an uncorked jug. Em's spirits fell to see his features turn blank. She watched Roger get onto his feet wordlessly and walk up the dock. Em hung her head and turned her body to face the ocean in front of her, wondering if she had been too bothersome to him.

Her head lifted a little as she felt something rushing at her from behind. Before she could get out of the way, it leapt into the air and soared above her head. Em looked up. Her eyes widened in shock to meet Roger's black eyes for a split second directly above her before she watched his long, lithe body curl up into a tight ball and break the smooth surface of the water. Em shouted with laughter as her lower body was drenched. She jumped to her feet and began clapping as Roger emerged, his hair veiling those eyes.

"Oh, bravo! Good form."

Roger smirked as he pushed his wet hair out of his eyes. He swam closer to her extended hand. To her surprise, he took it.

Then he pulled her into the water with him.

Em screamed as she hit the cold water. She met his smirking lips after emerging. She shouted before splashing water in his face. He didn't miss a beat and retaliated, and they began a playful water fight. Finally, Em surrendered, allowing him to pull her into his arms. He captured her lips triumphantly with his. They sank down kissing until they were forced to come back up for air.

"That will be the last time I help you," Em said teasingly as Roger helped her back onto the wooden platform.

"Maybe now you can learn to help yourself," Roger said. He climbed up after her.

Em stuck her tongue at him as they settled back on the edge of the dock. The excess water bled dark stains on the wood around them, blending together with their shadows. Both smirked at each other after becoming aware that Roger's shirt and Em's chiton revealed partially the outlines of their bodies. Roger brought the sack forward. Inside were two tin cups and a bottle of wine. Em raised an eyebrow as she took the bottle and lifted it in the air so the setting sun tinged the golden liquid inside.

"Where did you get this?" she asked coolly.

Roger's face remained stoic as he grabbed the bottle, popped it open, and then poured wine into the two cups. He took one and raised it in the air.

"My gods," he said solemnly.

Em took the other cup and raised it. "My gods," she said impertinently. They toasted and drank deeply. She was the first to lower her cup, watching Roger intently as he finished off his first round.

"What are you staring at?" he demanded after he lowered his cup. He refilled it.

Em grinned. Shyly, she confessed to him, "Before you, I didn't know I could feel so happy and yet so terrified at the same time. You're quite an adventure."

Roger smirked. "Just part of my charm, Princess."