Today is Wednesday. A day of elective classes: morning class I have Cole for Art and evening class I have Sasha for Home Economics. The two of them almost never assign any homework which I'm grateful for since I'm usually buried with other assignments and projects from all my other classes. Wednesday is most definitely my "Chill Day" and regardless of Dominique's appearance, I am going to chill.
I had taken a shower to freshen myself up from training but I completely ignored the whole "dress to impress" spill Cole had teasingly suggested and donned some faded blue jeans with a few rips along the right knee, a regular green t-shirt, and a pair of my oldest white sneakers. Tch! Since when does a person dress-up for Art Class? And even though I'm not a very messy painter, I wasn't about to put on some good clothes, especially not for a blind girl no less.
Depending on varying circumstances, sometimes classes are hosted out on the deck. Today however, isn't one of those days as I stroll in the den area and see it transformed into a makeshift art studio. Old white sheets lined the carpet and furniture to protect them from stray spills and such and easels and other art supplies littered the room as well. The beige walls of the den had a few completed paintings decorating them, all of which were done by Cole. Everyone had agreed that the ninja leader's paintings were good enough to be displayed and although Cole showed a fair bit of modesty and reluctance, he relented and decided to hang a few around the ship. And yeah, I'll admit that they're good, though some of them are really weird. I don't know. I don't really have an in-depth eye for the arts, but Cole had explained to me that his "weird" paintings were called "abstracts", just nonfigurative things he chose to immortalize. And it was his "weird" works of art that Zane, Ebony, and Sensei Wu were the fondest of.
And…speaking of my uncle, sometime after his death, Cole painted a portrait of him and hung it in Sensei's room. I was speechless when I first saw it. The semblance of it to the real thing was just so amazing! Cole had captured every line or wrinkle on Sensei's face, the perfect white of his beard and kimono, his famous straw hat and tea set, and most especially his wise onyx eyes. My uncle's eyes always had this all-knowing penetrating look in them, like he always knew what was going on or what needed to be done. Not once did I ever see confusion or indecisiveness within, just pitch black depths of eternal wisdom. Cole had said that, it was just something he felt he needed to do and I was extremely grateful to him…we all were really. I remember crying and hugging him in appreciation, still being emotional after his passing and since then, I know everyone visits his room from time to time, including myself. Though I'm not allowed to sleep in there anymore.
Cole gives me a nod of recognition as he places a new canvas on his easel, his body fitted in a pair of loose salt and pepper-colored trousers, a black tank top with three silver "X's" going across the chest, and black wolverine boots. I eye him a bit warily as I take my place on the stool in front of my own easel, not sure if he was going to start teasing me or not. He looks harmless enough though, not giving me any sly smiles or anything, so I shrug and go about my business mixing a few of the colors stationed on the table near me.
"So Lloyd, think you'll be able to finish your painting today?" He asks and I look at my half-finished canvas in thought.
"I don't know…maybe," I reply with another shrug. My picture had no real structure, just my interpretation of what Lord Bahamut may look like. It was a close-up of his face and all last Wednesday I had spent developing and comprising his horns and the shape of his head. Cole had taught me what brushes and paints to use to create realistic shadowing and light for his scales and he said it looked pretty good for something completely missing a definitive representation.
Minutes of silence tick by with just Cole and I and I lean a little out to check the entrance of the den for any sign of Dominique…not that I really care or anything…
I frown a little and start with the finishing touches on Bahamut's eye ridges.
"So…the Kunoichi back yet?" I question with as much indifference as I can. There's movement to my right and I see Cole placing different clays and modeling materials on one of the covered tables.
"Yeah, they got in some odd minutes ago. Don't worry, Dominique will be here shortly—"
"I'm not worried!" I snap back automatically and he lifts a thick black eyebrow at me. My face flushes deeply and I lament the fact that I don't have a hood to hide under. I quickly break eye contact and return stiffly to my work.
Please don't say anything. Please don't say anything. Please don't say anything!
I frown miserably and sag my shoulders in defeat as Cole begins to drone about his crush on Sasha and how he handled it. I sadly admit that I kinda walked into this one…
A sudden jolt courses through me at hearing the soft spoken voice.
"Oh hey Dominique, glad you made it," Cole greets pleasantly, but I don't say anything. I hurriedly dabble with some green and play-concentrate on my canvas. I know she can't see me because of the easel and I look at her from my peripheral when she walks into view towards Cole. With Dusk ever present in her arms, she smiles lightly at Cole then glances over at me.
I quickly avert my gaze back to my painting.
"Hi, Lloyd," she says gently.
"…Hey, Dom," I reply dully after a moment of hesitation.
"Dom? That's sort of a masculine nickname, don't you think?" Cole points out and I roll my eyes. Like it's really any of his business what I call her.
"Oh—um…it's okay," Dom says quietly. Even if I'm not looking, I can tell she's smiling. "I like it, short and easy. And it make me sound tough."
"Makes." I correct instantly while mixing the white and black paints with an air of diligence. I think the King of Dragons would have a very nice metallic color to go along with the green.
"Sorry…yes, makes me sound tough…" She reiterates and I hear a low growl come from Dusk, which I apathetically ignore.
"Right. Well Dom, as long as you're okay with it," states Cole evenly. "Now come over here and sit down where I am. Since I thought painting or drawing wouldn't exactly be your forte, I figure you could take a shot at sculpting instead."
"Wow…Okay! I would…like to try, thank you!"
Out of…mild curiosity, I subtly let my eyes wander to Dominique as she takes the seat Cole offered to her. She releases Dusk onto the table and he snoops around the gathered clays and materials on the surface with interest. In all areas of sensibility, it's logical to assume Dom would get more out of sculpting than painting. While I don't really know the extent of her sight in regards to colors, a painter must be able to see their work if they wished for their trade to be perfected. However, when compared to sculpting, one doesn't really need "sight" per se, only dexterous hands and a clearly imaginative mind's eye.
"I really can't claim to be an expert on sculpting, but I did read about it and got the gist of it down."
Cole comes around to the opposite side of the table and gestures to the assembled supplies.
"Can you make out what's on the table here, Dom?" He asks and I watch as the little violet-eyed girl's face contorts into fretful concentration.
"Um…I think so…" Her hands move, grasping at each of the items in turn. I hate to admit it, but…I'm fascinated by what I see. She utilizes every one of her fingers, sliding the digits slowly over every contour, curve, slant, or point of the varying materials in hopes of identifying them for herself. While her eyes, from where I'm looking at least, stare at said hands…not the object in her hands like one would expect, but…the slight incline of her head is lower than what a normal person observing something in their grasp would be.
Does she see her hands…?
It makes me wonder…
What exactly do you see when you look in the mirror, Dom…? You see everyone else's shape and aura, but have you ever seen your own…? You have had to, right…?
Cole continues to wait patiently for Dominique to come to some sort of conclusive realization. I know what he's doing…He wants to know the full extent of her sight, to know what she can and cannot do. And without a doubt he's taken notice of how her hands, her sense of touch, are in primary use.
I frown in thought as she begins to call out the names of the items on the table. It dawns on me how difficult her life must've been. As Shinobi, we trained extensively to adapt to any given situation and that includes the loss of sight. Darkness is a friend to any ninja or kunoichi, but Dominique was not trained like we were. She was born into darkness and had to adapt using move conventional means. So hypothetically speaking, if two ninja were to face-off against each other and one was blind and the other not, there would still not be any advantage to the one with sight. It would still come down to combat prowess, skill, and concentration to determine the winner. Looking at it that way, it seems that albeit rough, Dom has already mastered one crucial aspect in being a shinobi. Functionality despite the absence of sight.
But still…that doesn't mean she has the mentality to be one or the physical strength.
"Very good Dominique," Cole congratulates with a smile. "You got them all right. Now all you need to get started is to pick a model. Do you know of anything or anybody you would like to immortalize?"
"Something to last…forever…" Dom trails off and tilts her head to the side in thought. I turn back to my painting, feeling my face heat up.
C'mon Lloyd, don't start! You did not just think she looked cute when she did that!
"Dusk…you are…my best friend. Come here, boy."
Curiosity gets the better of me again as I lower my arm and turn back to the three at the table. Dusk barks and happily trots toward his master and Dom runs a single hand over his head and uses the other to tilt his chin up.
She smiles kindly, her eyes soft and loving. "Just the head…I want to make certain…I get everything right," she purrs and the red fox kit immediately closes his eyes and wags his tail contently.
All I do is watch…
How can something so simple, so ordinary be so…captivating?
She uses both hands and starts at his chin, massaging and caressing her way upward. A soft whine meanders from Dusk and his tail thumps loudly against the cloth-covered table. Every single honeyed finger is purposefully used, not a strand of fur goes untouched on the fox's head. Even his whiskers and lips get the same delicate treatment and since Dusk's eyes are closed, Dom smoothes her thumbs carefully over his eyelids before continuing upward.
A strange feeling is bubbling in my chest…and I don't like it.
Am I…am I seriously getting jealous…of a fox!?
When Dom's fingers reach the back of Dusk's ears, the little kit opens his eyes and begins to pant excitedly, his tail now just a sunset white blur.
And then…I want to say I fell asleep suddenly and was now dreaming, but I know that's not the case.
Dusk…his blue eyes slightly pivot to my direction… He's looking at me…
A blink…a wink!?
My eyes widen and my jaw drops. I'm being…taunted by a damn fox?!
/Suck it loser! She's touching me and not you! I am awesome and you're not!/
I break the paintbrush in my hand as I reel back in shock, causing my stool to tilt and fall. I land with a loud *thud!* and an "Oof!" on my back and stare up at the ceiling disbelievingly.
"Oh my gosh! Lloyd!"
A rushing sound of footsteps…small gentle hands on my chest…large pools of violet looking worriedly down at me…
"Lloyd…are you okay?"
My dazed gaze zeroes in on pretty lips…ones that emitted soft words laced in a thick Spanish accent…
Still too shocked to get angry at her for touching me, I nod absently to answer her question.
"Y-Y-Yeah...I-I-I…." Geez, I'm stuttering all over the place! And my body is even shaking!
I try to push myself up using my forearms, but struggle. That's when much larger and stronger hands grip my shoulders and help me to sit up.
"Lloyd? What happened?"
Cole's voice is calm and I'm thankful he sounds genuinely concerned and not teasing me. I shake my head roughly and take a few minutes to get my breathing under control.
Did I just imagine that or did Dusk really just…
I look up at Dom still kneeling beside me. "Can Dusk talk?" I ask her flat-out, but she looks completely taken back.
"What? No, he…he never say—s-said anything," she replies, now looking at me with even more concern than before. "Are you sure…you are…okay, Lloyd?"
"Yeah, yeah…" I sigh, shaking my head again.
That proves it then. I mean, I've heard animals speak before, but they were the Kunoichi's summons and Dusk couldn't possibly be like them. He's so tiny and doesn't look even remotely special, except for maybe the blue eyes thing. Man, what was that…? Huh?
I glance down distractively...Dominique's hands are still on my chest. However, she retracts them with a quickness that I didn't know she possessed and I peer up at her face just in time to see her look away with a blush. Which, frustratingly, causes me to blush also.
I get to my feet easily and dust myself off.
"I think I'm just getting hungry," I say dismissively before Cole can question me further. "I'm fine."
Dom casts me one more fretful glance before heading back to her seat and Cole just ruffles my hair before going back to his station. Once alone, I cut my eyes to the source of the unnecessary ruckus. While Dom starts building her armature with the roll of wire for the fox's big dumb head, he sits idly on the table looking straight at me.
My eyes narrow accusingly at him as he yawns loudly and scratches behind his ear with a hind leg.
I'm not jealous of you.
The rest of Art class was uneventful and needless to say, I didn't finish my painting. During lunch, which consisted of curry chicken crepes and grilled brie sandwiches courtesy of both Zane and Ayane, Dominique excused herself early stating, she wasn't hungry just tired and escaped to her room. She had ordered Dusk to stay behind and eat his meal. That's when I learned the results to the Kunoichi's training session this morning. My sister could activate her Ascension at will now. However, it was thanks to Dominique's assistance in directing her to draw power from the heart, not just from the Element within which led to her success. And with her help, it seemed that Dom had unlocked one of her own powers too. The Element of Darkness. As it turned out, with Dom being the Phoenix, she does have the four Counter-brink Elements within her just as Sasha speculated a few days back, as well as some other fifth element that's completely unknown. The Kunoichi were worried that Dominique's powers were going to be too much for her body to handle. Unlike me, even before I became the Green Ninja of Creation, my body was already accustomed to strenuous activity, having traversed a lot of Ninjago during my days as a delinquent. Dom however…the Kunoichi informed me she had fainted after unlocking one of her Elements and…she fainted yesterday too. Not to mention, she's been having frequent bouts of headaches as well. Everyone fretted over Dom's physical and mental health and it was suggested by Ayane that starting her training regardless of whether or not she stayed may be their only option, if only to safeguard Dominique's well-being while she helped them train and came to a decision on whether or not to accept her destiny as the Phoenix of Prophecy.
It wasn't finalized, but it was something they were considering, but I didn't like it one bit. To me, it sounded like they were taking Dom's fragility too lightly, like if they just trained her for a few days then she'll be strong enough to withstand the unlocking of her powers and whatever else comes her way. Have they already forgotten the life she came from? Being blind for ten years, what blind person they know ran on a daily basis? Or got deeply centered with their Chi and the inner machinations of their spirit? Or did any kind of arduous physical or mental activity for that matter? None, I bet. It may be cruel to say, but the handicapped are taught caution before anything else. They move through life slowly with an ample supply of wariness to their environment. How do I know? So sue me! I looked it up on the Game Room's computer yesterday night while everyone else was dead asleep. I was…curious…that's all…
Anyway, Dom's had her new sight for only a little over a year and fine, maybe she does get around well enough, but that doesn't exclude how…delicate she is. She's just so young and…different. Maybe if she was older and had more experience with herself and the world…It's wrong! Okay?! It just feels so wrong to me! Am I really the only one who can see just how…out of place she is among us? I really am considering cornering her and explaining outright what is expected of her. Does she know she's supposed to go up against an entire race of powerful beings? Does she know she may have to take lives despite if she wants to or not? Dominique helped my sister get stronger, but I wonder how Ebony truly feels about her being here. Especially while knowing her people could be at risk the longer Dom stays active as the Phoenix. What consequences will there be in the future when everything comes full-circle? My head hurts just from thinking about it… I remember the flash of…something that flickered over my sister's face the last time her people were mentioned.
I'm…really beginning to dread the future…
And another thing that happened during lunch was that Cole decided to use Kai's plan. He and Sasha would venture into Monsoon as visitors to inspect the village thoroughly and Zane and Ayane were chosen to scout and survey the caravan when it left the village into the woodlands. The rest of us were to stay here and keep our guard up…and protect Dominique. Cole deduced that the operation shouldn't take more than twenty-four hours and wanted everyone to meet back at the Bounty at dawn Friday morning. So yeah, this operation takes place first thing tomorrow.
It wasn't long before evening hit and Dom and I were standing in the kitchen waiting for Sasha to show up. She had been telling me happily that, like Art Class, she hoped cooking was not totally off-limits to her too since she wanted to learn. Apparently, her grandpa did all of the cooking when she was at home. I was just about to ask about her parents when Sasha came striding in. I could tell from the look on her face that something was bugging her and it was then that she announced that Home Ec. was cancelled due to an emergency meeting she was going to call with the other Kunoichi. Before leaving however, she instructed me to teach Dominique a few breathing and Chi exercises until the guys got back from their supply run.
Now here I am, sitting cross-legged on the plush carpeted floor of the Game Room with Dominique a mere two feet away in front of me, watching and observing with the kindest of smiles in place. I think about smiling back but decide against it, keeping my expression neutral. Ebony would be proud.
Besides, it's not like it would make much difference if I did smile or not. Hell, I could stick my tongue out at her and she wouldn't bat an eye, I bet. Not like I would do something so childish and stupid though.
I release a subtle sigh. She lacks the ability to see details. If she wants to get a clear picture in her head about what something of someone looks like, she'll have to rely on her hands.
A conventional method of the visually-impaired…
I cast a glance over at the animal pair on the couch. For once, Dusk isn't paying much attention to Dominique. His deplorability seemed to be most concentrated on the sleek blackness that was Mydnyte as the two lounged on the thick black velvet cushions together. The red fox kit was leaning somewhat heavily on the flank of the cat, his eyes closed and his tongue lolling out of his mouth in content and Mydnyte, the feline epitome of indifference, was showing not only tolerance to the kit's affection but giving some of her own by delivering a few consecutive licks to the top of his muzzle.
I can't say I really know what to make of this honestly weird happening, all I can recall is the feeling of…whatever that was in Art Class when Dom was mapping-out Dusk's face with extreme tenderness and thoroughness. It wasn't jealousy! I absolutely refuse to believe that! It was just…
I can't help but give a huff of indignation as my face once again begins to call forth more blood than necessary. This is seriously getting ridiculous!
"Lloyd…? Am I…sup—supposed to be breathing…the way you are?"
My brow puckers dubiously as I try to make sense of what she said. I bite my lower lip in anger when embarrassing realization plows into me. How in the world did I forget what I was supposed to be doing that fast!?
"Ah…no," I say, clenching my disdainfully clammy fists tight on my knees. "I was just thinking about what exercises to show you first."
I know it was a shameless lie and from Dom's frown I think she knows it too. But as soon as the frown appears, it leaves and a slender cinnamon eyebrow arcs up playfully.
"Do you always…think in anger?"
I stare at her and feel a little unnerved when a smile tugs at my lips. "Only on hot days."
She grins too. "I will…wish for cooler days then."
"Wishful thinking never got anyone anywhere," I counter swiftly, "especially once summer kicks in full force."
"There are…cool days in summer."
I shrug. "Who's to say I don't think in anger on cool days?"
Twin amethyst pools glimmer in triumph. "You said, "Only on hot days."
I can actually hear the figurative slamming of a cage door. Trapped. "I lied!" I snap back in a panic.
Time freezes as our eyes lock and just like that, the spell is broken and we both erupt into laughter. It's hard to wrap my head around the craziness I just willingly took part of. Who in their right minds would banter back and forth about the weather and how it affected a person's thought process and mood?! But you know something…it has actually been a while since I laughed like this. And who brought it out of me, but a girl I've known no less than forty-eight hours. A girl I was dead-set on not liking the moment I saw her. And yet, here I am basking in her presence, happily intoxicating myself in the relaxation and cheerfulness I've been depriving myself of since my uncle died. And looking at her and hearing her joy, has its effects on me too.
Cute… Pretty… A beguiling laugh…
She really is different. Everything from her mannerisms to her demeanor screams dainty and girly, like she's some sort of debutant. None of the Kunoichi have Dominique's layer of softness, not Nya, not Sasha, not Ayane, not even Ebony with her level of refinement. And it's not like I'm calling Dom refined or anything just…soft. Kind of like the red rose I had planted in the kitchen for Sasha to find back in April. Only Dom is more like crystal, more priceless and fragile and that's why I want to protect her. I won't deny that simple fact. That's why, despite what everyone else says, I will get Dominique off this ship and see to it that she returns home safely. I have to tell her. She deserves happiness not horror and if she stays, then that's all that awaits her on the Blood-soaked Bounty.
My legs feel a little numb from sitting in this position for so long. I don't know how Zane and Sasha can do it for hours on end. I take another peek at Dusk and Mydnyte on the couch and find them fast asleep in the same position they were in previously.
Good, no distractions.
I stretch out my legs and lean back on my hands, my light grin being dutifully replaced by a hard frown. Dom keeps her smile though and lifts a hand to her hair to twirl a finger around a curly strand.
I swallow as my mouth goes dry. My "symptoms" are coming back.
The sooner I get this over with, the sooner everything will go back to normal.
I open my mouth, but Dom's voice comes out before mine.
"You have a…a nice laugh, Lloyd. It is…nice to hear…" she compliments in her quiet Spanish purr, moving her finger counter-clockwise to unravel the strand caught around it. Her half-lidded gaze is centered somewhere around my legs and after a moment, as if following my lead, she relaxes her own posture and sits with a slouch, letting her left hand bear the brunt of her weight while her legs curl femininely to the side.
A gradual spread of pink appears along her cheeks and just like this morning, my brain comes to a screeching halt as the temperature in my body escalates and my heart begins to pound soundly in my ears.
"It…It is strange though…" she continues thoughtfully and painstakingly slow, using the same finger she utilized to play with her hair to draw small circles on the carpet. The same way she did this morning on my sleeve. "I…remember it…It like…" a frown of concentration, "It is like…a memory…from a dream…"
"What?" I ask confused. What is she talking about?
Her eyes finally dart up to look at me and a sudden urge shoots within my soul to get closer, to stare deeply into dark and rich violet pools. My forehead is beaded with sweat and I grimace as my hands claw and clump into the carpet, not willing to give in to the stupid temptation.
Pretty wild orchard lips purse briefly in indecision. "…Can I…tell you a secret, Lloyd?" Her whisper is so quiet that if I didn't have such owl-like hearing, I surely would've missed her words.
Strange that I don't even have to think before I answer. "Yeah."
The amethysts shift to the left, over my shoulder to the door before quickly fleeting back to my face. "I…I had a dream last night…" she begins in the same delicate undertone. "I did not tell them….because…because I cannot make it…make sense…and a part of me…did not want to…"
"But you…want to tell me?" I ask for clarification and she nods. "Why?" I blurt out next. That alone doesn't make sense since I haven't been exactly forthcoming or friendly towards her.
"Because the dream…had something to do with you…I think…And I want it…between us."
This visibly shakes me. "You want what between us?" A weird sensation is prickling in my chest. It feels like excitement mingled with something else.
Alarm? Intrigue? …Want? Do I actually want something between us?
She inches closer, crawling towards me in between my legs and reaches out to touch my shoulder before settling back on her knees. My face feels so hot that I wouldn't be surprised if my entire head burst into flames!
"Let me…tell you the dream," she whispers and I nod absently, my mind too focused on allowing my lungs to fill with her flora scent than produce coherent thoughts at the moment, and my eyes relish at getting the chance to stare blatantly into deep depths of violet. But when she does begin again, I listen intently.
"I wasn't myself…I was a bird…and I was flying. My sight was the same…as it is now…and…flying beside me…was the beautiful green aura…and shape of a dragon…It was the same…beautiful green…as your aura…only…no darkness…"
I stay silent.
"I could not move…the way I wanted…I could not say what I wanted…I was…living-dreaming…of a memory, I think. It felt…very real…so real that I can clearly…recall the way…the warm air felt through my feathers…beneath my wings. My name or…the bird—the phoenix's name was Aurora…and the dragon's was Flaragon. They were searching for…others—foes…powerful foes, a Black Phoenix and a Black Dragon. And during the search you—I mean Flaragon laughed about…something…and even though his laugh was much deeper and growly, your laugh…stirred my memories of the dream…It is very mysterious, right?...Lloyd, I think maybe…"
"You can't stay here," I interrupt sternly, whatever was happening I had to stop it before it got worse. Before it got uncontrollable. She looks at me, her eyes wide in shock. "It's too dangerous. It's not safe. Do you understand?" I carry on, but even as I say these things to her, flashes of my own dream from the dragon's perspective assails pointedly in my mind's eye.
Her hand is still on my shoulder, but her soft grip loosens until it's able to slide down to the center of my chest, over my heart. "Lloyd? What…what is wrong?"
Doesn't she get it! Fine, I'll make her get it!
I move forward, no longer leaning back and bend my legs at the knee. One hand takes hold of her shoulder while the other buries itself within the mass of cinnamon sable curls. Something stabs at my thundering heart, an insistently strong and ancient instinct that tells me that just touching the silken ringlets wasn't enough. I was supposed to bury my face into the soft twisting forest and relish in the feel of having her so close.
Another memory flashes in my mind and tunnels down to my heart. All I see is darkness but I can feel the unmistakable heat of fire and suppleness of feathers. The sublime and tantalizing mixture of feels was against my scaly cheek and I loved it.
I loved her.
Flaragon and Aurora?
I determinedly fight through the dragon's memory and focused on what I wanted—needed to say.
"What's wrong is you being here. You don't belong with us and especially not with me, so whatever you're thinking just forget about it and go home."
"Forget? How can I?"
"You've only been here for a few days, Dom," I argue logically. "That's not enough time to make us your friends and bond with us. You should have no problem returning to your normal life."
Her face turns stricken and her eyes flee downward, causing her long lashes to partially obscure dark lavender and lilac. "That…That is not true. The Kunoichi…I…what I feel from them…they care…" her irises lift back up to my face, "…and so do you. You would not be saying this…if…if you did not."
My eyes narrow at her for using my own words against me. "You're a frail, scared little girl and I've been taught to protect the weak. That is the extent of my caring," I strike back coldly.
"Yes, I am…" she admits quietly. "…and I am aware of the danger, Lloyd—"
"Are you?" I challenge. "Are you aware that you could get killed? Are you aware that you may have to kill others?" My predictions about the future turn dark and morbid. "Commit genocide? Obliterate an entire race of people?!"
My voice grew louder and more forceful and her face pales considerably. "N-No, I will never go against my beliefs…no matter what. I will never…take a life…"
"All the more reason for you to get out of here." I say through gritted teeth, my expression hardening further. "Or do you prefer to be surrounded by killers?"
"I have…I have no right to judge anyone and—and I know you all are good people…" her small hand trembles on my chest but she still manages to fist my shirt tight, "…especially you, Lloyd… And I know I will never be a kunoichi…"
"If you know that then why stay here? What are you aiming to be?"
"That is…what I want to find out…" There's an inner sense of fortitude and resilience that I can easily feel from her and see in her eyes. "And…I know I can only…find the answer here. Do you…know what it is like, Lloyd? To look in the mirror…and see nothing…but a phantom?"
"What? A phantom?"
"For a while…every night after…I received my new sight…the Celestial would…visit me in my dreams…to teach me…the many colors of the universe…He said…it was important for me to know them all…since my sight will change slowly over time…" She smiles serenely and my hand that had remained unmoving in the recesses of her curly mane, comb tentatively through it. I marvel at how unnaturally easy it is to do so.
"…Every color…every mixture of shades known to Man…and beyond…is im…imprinted on my mind… During my grief…my time with the Celestial helped me…with the still fresh wounds in my heart… I was healing and…well…I always avoided looking in the mirror be-because…I wanted to wait until I knew all the colors…so I could…name it, I guess… I thought that…my aura would be very pretty…and grand…like a princess…" I frown when I hear her laugh, it sounded so empty and hollow. "When I finally did look…I was…very d-disappointed… I did not have a shape even…all I saw was a…a scraggly blotch of…of nothing…just the dullest blacks and grays…I do not look in the mirror anymore…"
Words spew forth before I can stop them. The need to console her is so strong. Strange, when just hours ago I enjoyed seeing her vexation. There's a difference this time though, her eyes have never looked so sullen…and I don't like it. I don't mind seeing her bothered…but I have a problem with seeing her sad.
"Forget about your aura! You do know what you actually look like, right? I mean, your aura isn't physical! You had to have felt your face! You have to know you're pretty! You have—" My fingers grope through the naturally spun locks of her hair. "—the softest curly brown hair ever! And it's not just brown either! When the light hits it just right, you can see black too! And your eyes…" She's looking at me with such anticipation and a strange part of me doesn't want to disappoint her. "They're this…deep, deep purple. Unimaginably beautiful…I bet no one in any realm has eyes like yours."
"Lloyd…" Her face turns bright red and I turn away from her, feeling my own face flush scarlet.
I reflexively pull on a scowl to try to save some form of my dignity. "Anyway…you know that, right?"
She's silent and I take the chance to inwardly berate myself. Bleh! How could I carry on like that!? I feel like a dorky character from one of those cheap, tawdry young adult romance novels I hear Nya and Ayane sometimes harp about!
I don't know what has come over me. None of it makes any sense. When I saw her eyes dull, it felt like a clawed-hand had gripped my heart savagely and I instantly knew I wanted to make her feel better. What are all these temptations I have now concerning Dominique? Why am I beginning to feel such burning desires? I have feeling this has much more to do with than just puberty…
"M-My p-parents and grandpa told me…what I look like…yes…"
I hesitantly meet her eyes again. Her face is still red, but her amethysts sparkled vividly with gratitude. "But…they never told me with such…passion… Um…thank you…Lloyd."
I bite my lip to keep from yelling that it wasn't "passion" just…something else. Instead I reply with a shaky, "Y-Y-Yeah…"
We're quiet for a spell.
Her hand still fisting my shirt.
My hand still embedded deep in her hair.
We're still so close to each other… Why…?
I decide to break the silence. "And…I'm sorry about your parents. Ebony didn't tell me that they were gone."
She nods solemnly. "They were killed…in a car problem—I mean car…c-crash…a year ago."
"I'm sorry," I say again and she nods again.
"It sounds like you're staying," I say quietly and she looks up at me and shakes her head.
"I do not know…I have to still think…"
I sigh, feeling very tired and fatigued. "I still feel the same," I state flatly.
"I…had a feeling you would…"
She gives me one of her small delicate smiles and I return a somewhat lop-sided one and retract my hand from her hair and she gradually loosens her grip on my shirt and lets her own hand fall away from my chest.
Whether from tiredness or that strange instinctual urge from before, my body protests the distance I put between myself and Dominique. I scoot back while she remains where she is, her eyes watching me carefully. I re-cross my legs achingly once enough space is between us and she copies my positioning.
And as I begin instructing her about the numerous expansions and decompressions of her lungs when using structured breathing…another one of Flaragon's memories flash into my mind.
And the sight left me feeling…something I couldn't put into words…
The vision of the phoenix named Aurora…her demeanor beaten and her once vibrant violet gaze forlorn as she looked at me—Flaragon…And…a much larger, obviously male phoenix was beside her…his plumage and feathers as dark and black as an endless abyss of nothingness… and his eyes…gold and silver, cold and taunting as he wrapped his sinister wings possessively around her…and disappeared from sight.