Outside the towers

Ayuna and Steve teleported outside the towers, back into the middle of the labyrinthine maze that the others traveled through earlier to reach the entrance of the ruins and looked at each other. Ayuna bore an apologetic look on her face, and Steve only looked at her in confusion. What were her ambitions? Why did she act nice all of a sudden?

Ayuna dug in a pocket of her uniform and pulled out something, concealed by a clenched fist. Opening her hand, a topaz-colored gem rested in her palm. "Here, I found this after we got separated," she said, giving Steve the Topaz of Light. "Keep it. You'll need it when the time comes."

Steve stared at the gem. "But why?"

"To protect my sister. Please…take care of Ayana. Without her…I am nothing. Our fates are now entwined. Until we meet again, Steve."

Ayuna ran off, leaving Steve confused more than ever. He walked around, trying to find a way out of the maze and find the others. A thought conjured up in his head, but he wasn't sure to believe it. "Maybe they aren't the bad guys after all…"

"HEY! STEVE!" Aniu called out, running over to him. The others followed her soon after and met up with Steve. Ayana was the last one to catch up with the others, due to her injury.

"We wondered where you two had gone," Talene said. "Did you fight those other two?"

Ayana rubbed constantly at her shoulder. "No, not at all. But for some reason…they were acting nice."

"Yeah," Steve added. "And they helped us, too. They kept telling us that they weren't the enemies."

"I find that hard to believe…" Ayana commented.

"Very suspicious indeed," Shiro spoke up. "We need to head back to Taifu village and discuss this matter."

The seven turned around and headed back to the rocky shores of the ruins. Shan and Niana waited patiently for the group, just as they said they would. They all climbed aboard the boat, and Shan released his mast, waiting for the winds to pick up. As soon as the boat began to move, they were among the seas once again.

The boat trip to Pele village seemed faster than they traveled from the village. The seven said their goodbyes after resting up and restocking on materials and left.

That next morning of their departure, Talene didn't feel as rejuvenated as the others did when they woke up. She felt sluggish and groggy, and wished to rest some more before leaving. She was the last one to pack her belongings and leave the guest house.

The party of seven officially left the village for the grassy Luma Mountains, and they traveled nonstop, except for eating and water breaks. Talene sat on a slab of rock and looked into the creek of water the group stopped by and cupped a handful of cool water and splashed it against her hot skin. Her eyes grew heavy against the light and warm sun rays, and longed for sleep.

Getting up from the rock, Talene walked over to a grassy area and laid down on the ground; the soft blades of grass tickling her sienna-brown skin. She closed her eyes and rested for a while…

That is, until a cold, slender hand touched her shoulder, giving her a gentle nudge.

Talene's eyes fluttered open and noticed that it was Aniu, telling her to wake up, so they could continue traveling back to Taifu. Giving her friend a weak smile, Talene got up and began walking. Again, she was last to leave the resting place, trying to keep up with her older companions. Her spirit guide, Nula, flew past and landed on her small shoulder, nuzzling its head against her cheek. She petted the bird, which gave her a gentle coo as she managed to walk.

Ayana attempted to stretch her arm out, but flinched from the pain her shoulder gave her. She slowed down from the others, and noticed Talene's strange behavior. Nudging Aniu with an elbow, she told her to keep an eye on Talene, and Aniu vigorously nodded her head in compliance.

Taifu village came into view; they were almost there. As soon as the group entered the village, Talene slowed down severely. Her eyes grew heavy more and her petite body swayed dangerously from left to right, knocking her off equilibrium.

"Ayana, Aniu…can we…rest here for a bit…" Talene groaned before fainting. Her body hit the ground with a dull thud, causing Aniu to gasp loudly, followed by Ayana turning around quickly. The others turned their heads soon after.

"Talene!" Aniu yelled, picking up the small girl and lifting her off the ground. She hoisted Talene on her back with the help of Ayana. "We need to take her to Dr. Asahina!"

The two rushed to the clinic with an ill Talene. The others rushed after them.

The Clinic

"Oh my…this isn't good at all," the doctor said.

Doctor Asahina sat on a chair that stood by the bed Talene rested on. She immediately became alert when she noticed her door swinging open and two girls rushing in her clinic, holding a small girl and begging somebody to help the little girl.

Steve looked down at the shamaness and asked of Talene's condition. "Will she be alright?" he asked.

"Yes, but…." The doctor trailed off, shaking her head.

"What's wrong?" He asked, deeply concerned.

"Not only does she have a high fever, but her powers are beyond depleted, and she's past her limits of exhaustion. This is a severe level of fatigue, and …her body is breaking down because of it. It may take weeks for her to recover. I'm sorry, but Talene cannot go anywhere with you all. It is best if you leave her here with me until she heals." Asahina explained.

"What? We can't do that! Talene is family to us!" Aniu clamored.

"Yeah, we need her," Rosaria commented. "She's very intelligent."

"She can't go anywhere in her condition," Doctor Asahina stated once more.

Ayana rubbed her shoulder for the umpteenth time. "…She's right." Her response caused everyone to turn and look at her. "We can't drag Talene along with us like this. It would be selfish of us to do something like that, making her travel with us when she's clearly tired. It's a sacrifice we have to make, and besides, it's up to Talene if she wants to stay or not."

Talene groaned loudly, tossing and turning. "Talene…!" Aniu exclaimed.

"Aniu…is that you? I'm sorry I can't see that well from the light," Talene weakly apologized.

"Nah, it's alright, Talene."

"I heard Ayana talking, saying that it was my decision to stay or not…I've made my decision, and I don't want you all to argue about it," Talene said. "Go on without me…don't let my illness stop you all from your adventure."

"I…"

"No, you must. It's the only way so I can…" she began coughing.

"Don't strain yourself," Ayana told her.

"Just go. I'll be okay. Doctor Asahina will take care of me. I'll be fine, I promise," Talene smiled.

"If that's what you want…" Aniu reluctantly said, saddened. Talene's eyes slowly closed and she fell asleep. Doctor Asahina told the six to leave the clinic, and they all went to the inn to eat dinner.

That Night

"What a day," Aniu sighed sadly, eating her food. Rosaria agreed along with her, sighing sadly as well. It would be different, traveling without one of their own; it just didn't…feel right.

"Why the low spirits?" Shiro questioned. "Talene will recover, and do not worry about her being alone. She has me, and Asahina."

"Hmm? You're staying too?" Aniu asked.

"Yes, to watch over the village. Now, you all must rest. I have something for you five warriors in the morning!"

"Sure thing," Steve said. "Good night Shiro."

The Next Morning

"…Steve, wake up," Ayana said, nudging him.

"Nnng….huh, what?"

"Wow! A boat! Cool, it's so big!" They both heard Aniu say from outside.

The two went outside to the sandy shore and spotted a boat composed of coral, sturdy wood, and fish bones. It was large enough to house a maximum of twelve people.

"Shiro…is this boat yours?" Ayana asked.

"Yes, the Wandering Shark. Beautiful, is it not? This boat will take you to the east, as you requested earlier. But be warned, young warriors, it is siren season. They're cunning creatures indeed," Shiro warned, looking at the ocean.

"I'll take note of that," Ayana replied.

"Ayana, Aniu, wait!" she heard a voice call out, making her and the yuki-onna turn.

"Talene…what are you doing out of bed?" Ayana inquired.

"I have enough energy to see you all off. Before you go, I want to give you something." Talene placed a small pouch in her hand. "It's something I found back at the ruins, but don't open it until you're at sea, okay?"

"Okay, Talene," Ayana smiled.

"You have to find Azurelite, and tell me about it!" Talene cried, hugging Aniu and Ayana tightly. Doctor Asahina called for her.

"Bye Talene," Aniu said.

"Bye…" she sniffled, watching the others get on the boat.

"Farewell!" Shiro yelled, waving.

"Bye! Take care of Talene!" Aniu waved.

And soon the boat sailed off towards the east, the direction that the priestess instructed them to go.