Inspired by a friend, this story didn't turn out the way I planned. But in the end, I think this was how it was meant to be. It's a side story to Shadow the Sun, detailing an event in the life of one of the minor characters introduced in chapter 5. Hope you like it!
~*Azul, Valoria. 5:33pm*~
Sitting on the bench by the river, Arissa sighed. Her life was completely screwed up. She was lonely even when surrounded by friends, but no one seemed to notice.
They were all there.
First was Bain, the group's natural leader. The healer, and the one man Arissa truly loved.
Then there was Corrie. She was a white mage, though she had been doing research into the Dark Arts.
Next was Ymus. He was the group's technology expert. He and Rune, their weapon's specialist, kept the group running smoothly.
Lance was captain of the Black Nova, an Archadion warship. Arissa's brother Cameron was his Third Officer.
Arissa herself was the group's linguist.
But even with the whole group gathered together, no one knew she was feeling so alone.
She must be a damn good actress if no one realized it. And why were they in Azul, anyway? Didn't anyone know she hated that town? Arissa was angry tonight, and had snapped at everyone. Thus the evening alone.
And to top it off, Ymus was flirting with her. Given their relationship she shouldn't be surprised, but after 10 years wouldn't he realize that she just wasn't interested? He was her best friend, sure, but she felt more of a sibling relationship with him than anything.
As she sat on the bench she heard footsteps behind her.
It was Bain.
"Hey." She offered.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you."
"It's okay. I'm not exactly making friends in there either. But I wanted to see if you were alright. You're not usually so…" Bain trailed off, and Arissa smiled slightly.
"Angry? Bitchy? A complete jerk to all my friends?" She suggested.
"Well, I wasn't going to put it that way, but yeah. So what's up?"
"I don't know, I just… couldn't take it anymore. Too many things going on at once, you know? Dad's gone, Slade is dead." She began, sighing again.
"Then there are the new laws the king put into effect. Who would have ever thought he would be so against the Ra'shen? It certainly makes our job harder, doesn't it?"
"We'll figure something out. We always do, so don't worry about that." Bain assured her.
Leaning forward, she propped her elbows on her knees and rested her chin on her hands.
"I know, I know. It's just too much right now."
"So forget about it for now. At least for tonight. The Archangel Sect has been disbanded-that's reason to celebrate!"
"Yeah, you're right. Thanks, Bain."
When Arissa looked over at Bain, she found that he had leaned forward as well, and they were now mere inches apart. Staring into his eyes for a long moment, she cautiously raised a hand and laid it on the side of his face, studying him.
Then she slowly leaned over and pressed her lips to his gently. After a brief moment she pulled away, standing quickly and turning away.
"Wait a minute…" Bain said, reaching out to take her arm. He turned her to face him but she wouldn't look at him, so he put a hand under her chin and tipped her face up.
"Kiss and run? That's your plan?" He asked softly.
"I'm sorry." She said again.
"Stop apologizing. You didn't do anything wrong." Pulling her back to the bench, he sat down again.
"I hate being here." Arissa admitted quietly.
"I know. I tried to talk them out of coming here. They should know you don't want to be here, but I guess they didn't think." Bain agreed.
The two sat in silence for a few moments, then Bain spoke up again.
"We could leave, you know. Go back to Elon Pael, or anywhere else, really."
"I'd like that."
Bain thought Arissa's smile looked forced, but he said nothing.
~*Veridraz, Valoria. 10:05am*~
"Arissa threw herself off the balcony last night."
Ymus couldn't believe what Bain was telling him. Why would Arissa try to kill herself? It didn't make sense!
"What happened? Is she alright?"
"Well, she's alive anyway. But she's badly hurt. I did what I could to heal her, but she's in bad shape. She says that she slipped and fell off the balcony, but I don't buy it. Anyway, we need to tell the others. Can you send one of your messengers to tell them to meet at my house?"
"Sure, I send someone right away. I can't believe she would do something like this… it's unreal…"
"I know. I'm going back to Elon Pael. I left Jeb watching Arissa, so I should get back and see how it's going."
"Alright. Once I've heard back from my messenger, I'll head over myself."
So Bain left then, and headed back to Elon Pael. When he arrived he headed to his house right away, and found the doctor there as well.
"Ah, Bain. I brought some herbs for Arissa. She seemed to be running a fever when I saw her last night, so I thought I would bring these by. Don't want her getting sick now, do we?" He said as he handed over a package of wrapped herbs.
"Thank you, Doctor. Have you been in to see her today?"
"No, I haven't. I believe Jeb said that she's been sleeping all day."
"Alright, thanks again. I'm going to go and check on her. Please excuse me."
Then Bain headed upstairs, and found her sitting in bed, staring at her reflection in a mirror hanging on the opposite wall.
"Arissa, is something wrong?" He asked as he entered the room.
"Can you tell me something? Why did you try to kill yourself?"
"I'm not buying your story, Arissa. There's no way you simply slipped and fell. How did you slip over the edge of a railing that high?"
"I wasn't paying attention, that's all. I leaned far over and… I slipped. That's it."
"Arissa, why are you lying to me?"
"I'm not lying."
The whole time that Bain had been speaking to Arissa, her voice hadn't risen above a faint whisper, as if speaking was a challenge. Bain decided to leave her then, and went to the kitchen to speak with Jeb.
"How's she doing?"
"Well enough, considering. She ate a bit of soup this morning, so that's something. Did you get Ymus working on telling everyone about this?"
"Yes, he's sending a messenger to find everyone and direct them here. They should start arriving in a couple of hours."
"I'll prepare the guest rooms."
"Thanks, Jeb. I think I'm going to get some rest now. It's been a long day."
"Very good, sir. I shall wake you if anything changes."
~*Elon Pael, Valoria. 1:15pm*~
"Sir, Ymus and the others have arrived."
"Very well, thank you Jeb."
Rising from his bed, Bain went to see Arissa again and found her sitting in the same position as before, staring at the mirror.
"Arissa, is something wrong? You keep looking into that mirror like it holds the meaning of life." He asked as he walked in.
"I'm just trying to find myself in there." Was her whispered response.
"Find yourself? What do you mean? You're right here, where you've always been."
"No, I'm not. This isn't me. Something is missing. Something's wrong with me, with this reflection of me. It isn't who I am."
Bain didn't know what to say to that. She wasn't who she saw in the mirror? Then who did she see? Maybe it was a metaphor. Maybe she just meant that she was trying to find herself again after everything that had happened the last few weeks.
But somehow, Bain doubted it.
Heading back downstairs, Bain found everyone gathered in the dining hall. Rune was sitting at the table, along with Ymus. Corrie was leaning against the wall, looking out the window. Lance and Cameron were sitting in chairs in front of a large stone fireplace.
He quickly told them what had happened, including the conversation he had just had with her.
"What's wrong with her? Is this all connected to her being suicidal? Maybe it's all in her head?" Corrie suggested.
"No, I don't think so. This is something more than that. It's possible that she's been infected with some sort of virus or something, but that's as 'in her head' as it gets. I don't know what it is, but it's real. And we've got to figure it out." Bain answered.
"Where should we start?" Cameron asked.
"Well, I was thinking we should contact Dr. Halazen. He might know something. What do you think?"
"You want to ask my dad?" Rune spoke up.
"Uh, yeah, if that's alright. He's the only one I know who might have a clue about any of this. Is it alright if we contact him?" Bain explained, but Rune hesitated.
She didn't have a very good history with her family, so she wasn't sure that she liked the idea of contacting them. But she knew she couldn't say no-it was for Arissa, after all.
"Alright, it's okay with me."
"But how are you gonna get in touch with him? He's on Ceanokth right now, isn't he? They're not exactly the most communication-minded people we've come across. I doubt they'll be very helpful." Ymus pointed out.
"We'll find a way, don't worry." Bain assured him.
"What about finding Zero? He's stationed on Aeo right now, so we could talk to him first. Then he could find Dr. Halazen." Lance suggested.
"That's a good idea. That's where we should start. Lance, is the Black Nova available to us? We'll need a fast ship, and yours is the best we've got."
"I will see to it."
"Okay, we leave in an hour. I'll talk to Arissa."
After that everyone went their separate ways, and Bain went upstairs.
"Hey, Arissa. How are you feeling?"
"We're leaving for a trip to Ceanokth in an hour, all of us. Do you want to come?"
"No, I'll stay here."
"I think it would be good for you to come with us, Arissa. Won't you at least consider it?"
"I would rather stay here, Bain." Arissa insisted.
"Very well, then. I'll come to see you before I leave."
Arissa didn't answer, and Bain left.
~*Archadion Starship Black Nova, orbiting Ceanokth. 11:47pm*~
"I can't believe we can't even contact Zero!"
The group had reached Ceanokth late in the evening, and had spent most of their time speaking with the commander of Aeo Station, the space station orbiting Ceanokth.
"Can't we just transport down? They would never know the difference!" Corrie suggested.
"No, that won't be possible. They're using a transport jammer." Bain answered.
"Well, now what?"
"I'm not sure. I'm going to send a subspace message to Valoria, check in with Jeb and see how Arissa's doing."
So Bain left to see to send the message, and was gone for several minutes. When he returned he reported that there was no change, other than one odd incident that had occurred earlier that evening…
~*Elon Pael, Valoria. 7:58pm*~
Jeb was working in the kitchen when he heard a sound, something like glass breaking. A bottle, perhaps. A moment later he heard a louder sound, of glass shattering. The sound came from Arissa's room, and when he reached it he found her mirror laying on the floor below where it had previously hung.
There was also a broken glass bottle that appeared to have been thrown by Arissa.
"Arissa? What is it?"
"Get it out." She whispered.
"Get it out! Get that mirror out of here! I don't want to see it anymore! Get it out, now!" She screamed.
So Jeb quickly cleaned up the glass and removed the fragments from the room, and when he returned to check on her a few minutes later he found that she was asleep.
He moved closer to her and wrapped a blanket around her, and as he turned to leave he noticed a notebook lying at her side.
He picked it up to place it on the table when he noticed what was written on it.
It was written in a foreign language, so it took Jeb a minute to translate it, but when he did he read it quietly to himself.
"I've been having panic attacks for the past few days. I don't feel like myself at all. I look in the mirror and it isn't my reflection I see. It's someone else looking back at me. I want to scream. Would anyone hear me?"
Jeb placed the notebook on the table, unsure of what to do with his newfound knowledge. He knew that the others should know about it, but they were off-world. He would have to wait until they came back. Glancing at Arissa once more, he sighed heavily and turned to leave the room.
What he didn't notice was the pile of broken glass on the floor beside the bed.
~*Archadion Starship Black Nova, orbiting Ceanokth. 12:06am*~
Bain wasn't sure what to make of the story Jeb had just told him. It certainly spoke to her state of mind, but what could he do to help her?
"Hey, Bain, we're not going to get anywhere here. We might as well go back to Valoria and see to Arissa." Corrie told him as he re-entered the bridge.
"Alright, set course for Valoria. In the meantime, I need to tell you something that happened earlier tonight…
No one knew what to say to what they were hearing. It didn't seem possible that Arissa was going through such extreme… they didn't even know what.
How could they categorize it? A mental breakdown? That seemed to be the closest thing to what she was experiencing, but it hardly felt appropriate to speak of it in such clinical terms.
Their friend was in trouble, and they had to find some way to help her before she did something they couldn't undo.
~*Elon Pael, Valoria. 4:23pm*~
Arissa was tired. Not physically, as she had done nothing but rest since the accident. That was how she chose to refer to it—"the accident". She still refused to admit, even to herself, that she had intentionally jumped from the balcony of Bain's home.
No, she was tired emotionally. She felt worn out, mentally. It felt as though she had been under a lot of stress, which of course she had. It wasn't easy dealing with her brother's death and her dad's departure.
Not to mention the loneliness she had been feeling lately. It was too much to bear. She was tired of it all. She wanted release, an end to it all.
Her finger twitched and closed around one of the pieces of glass she had hidden from Jeb, the light glinting harshly off the jagged edges.
It would be so easy.
Just two deep cuts and the hollow emptiness would go away.
So easy to do. Did she have that kind of strength, though? Could she drag that piece of glass across her own skin and spill her own blood with such a purpose in mind?
She placed the shard against her wrist gently and slid it over her flesh gently, in an almost loving fashion. After a moment she pressed it into her skin, enough to feel it but not to cut.
Then she pressed harder. Deeper.
The sharp sting of pain barely registered in her already numb mind as her blood began to stain the sheets beneath her. The glass cut again and again. Each spear of pain barely registering. A sound was heard, but it was far away and she really didn't care.
She was beyond caring now.
~*Elon Pael, Valoria. 4:35pm*~
Bain and the others had just returned from Ceanokth. They weren't sure what they would do next, so they went back to Bain's home to see Arissa as planned. When they arrived Bain and Corrie went to see Arissa first, while the others spoke with Jeb.
Bain saw her first. Or more accurately, he saw the blood. It covered the sheets and mattress Arissa laid on, as well as covering her body.
Bain and Corrie ran to her bed, Bain reaching her first. Paying no attention to the blood he moved onto the bed and pulled Arissa close, checking her pulse. It was weak, almost nonexistent, but it was there.
"Arissa…? Arissa, open your eyes! Look at me! Don't you leave me like this!"
But there was no response.
"Arissa! Come on, Arissa, come on!"
Her eyes fluttered slightly, then opened barely a fraction of an inch.
"Arissa, why? Why would you do this?"
"I… couldn't…I'm sorry…" She whispered, her eyes falling closed again.
"No! Arissa, say something! Come on, you have to fight! You have to live!"
Bain had been attempting to heal Arissa, but there was little he could do. His healing abilities weren't that advanced. Corrie had gone to find the others as soon as she had seen what was going on, and returned now with them on her heels.
They all gathered around the bed, whispering to Arissa, telling her to fight, to hang on. But it was too late. She was gone.
And part of Bain died with her.
Holding her close still, he pressed a soft kiss into her hair, and whispered one last thing.
"I love you, Arissa."