I listen with half an ear as Cole once again explained the details and overall objective of today's mission. The clouds are dark and ominous, withholding their precious rainwater with barely restrained wills. A few drops are already falling, the calm before the storm. The sky rumbles and my soul shakes.Something terrible is going to happen today… I can feel it…
I debate internally on whether or not to bring up my worrisome thoughts. My intuition has never failed me before so… But what could I warn them about? The omen from the sky? The Serpentine? All I have are these hunches, these irregular pricks to my subconscious.
Everyone was geared-up and ready to go, their masks and hoods obscuring their expressions, but I could see the alert and focus within their eyes. Sasha and Cole were the only ones dressed normally; completing their guises as mere visitors once they reach Monsoon. I avert my gaze from the two leaders and let it wander until it falls on the two youngest members of our group.
Lloyd, his posture slipshod, his eyes focused on the leaders in a very unenthused way. And Dominique…her and Dusk blink in unison as the little fox's head peeks out of the opening of her zipped-up windbreaker. I don't like the sight of her hunched shoulders, her stance as slouched as Lloyd's but unlike his, she appears more haggard and fatigued.
Phoenix and fox blink again, this time more owlishly than the last…
While Dusk yawns and emits a soft whine, Dominique un-pockets a hand and rubs lethargically at her eyes.Did she not get enough sleep? Is she sick? Or is this…
More troublesome thoughts convolute my mind, although I cling onto one in particular.Is Darkness already taking its toll?
A stray nor'easter howls a troubled ballad and only I am affected, my hair tousling at the gale's requiem. Tempest…? I can feel the warmth through my gauntlets as they pulse, a second heartbeat that only I can hear.Will Cereza train Dominique?
Her tone was clipped and serious, lacking the usual light-heartedness and whimsy.I…I don't know.
I answer truthfully. Since yesterday, when my sisters and I witnessed Ebony's dismal outburst, the issue had never been truly resolved. It simply hung in the air in uncertainty. Would Ebony train Dominique?"…I would rather die trying to protect my mother… I would rather fight Dominique…"
Spoken with such vehemence and melancholy… and if I was to declare judgment based from that…What about Oblivion?
I ask, mentally shaking off the cold tremor that seized my body. Did you ask him? Or…her?That vague, cryptic jouster?! By Sylph's wings Number Two should be stripped of all power for withholding secrets from us! That rogue knows something the rest of us don't, but refuses to relinquish anything pertaining to Cereza! I have already pleaded with Waves to do something to loosen Oblivion's tongue, but my efforts were for naught! Not even Number One can delve into the obscurity and come back unscathed! That facetious faux pas! It is imperative that the Phoenix receives meticulous training in all the Counter-brink Elements, but that…
Only a few more relevant statements are made before Tempest segues into platitudes, passionately fuming about the utter distaste she has for the second oldest of the Four. Though to me, it sometimes sounds like she's a hormonal teenager with a crush on the local bad boy…or girl. But my mind goes fickle, wondering more and more about Ebony's future. If she refuses…what will happen to Dominique? To us? To Ninjago as a whole? Could that be what my intuition is telling me?
My eyes trail upward again… The bleak sky…
Will Ebony abandon us to fight beside her other kin…against us…?
How would we be able to compensate? Could
Ever since her origins had been revealed in their entirety, Tempest has referred to Ebony as "Cereza". Simply omitting her…human name. Why? Yes, it is the name her parents gave her, but… But…I feel that that name puts up a wall between her and us. I don't ever want to think about a time when I would have to brandish my blades violently against a kunoichi sister. She's much too important to me, to Kai, to all of us.
We are a family. We are connected by something much more potent than blood.
Is it wrong of me to always want her to remain just Ebony Youngblood? To have her flat-out reject her other half in favor of her always remaining by our sides without refute?
Tempest had quieted, however every now and again she would huff and mumble incoherently in bitter distain. I believe now I can get her attention. I must know why?Tempest…
"—amplifier is ready?"
I'm shocked out of my internal trepidations to see Ebony's eyes staring questionably at me…her and Kai's. I knit my brow in confusion.What's going on?
I flinch when someone grabs my hand.
"Don't worry Cole, we got it covered." Jay. I release a shuddering breath and look to him before focusing back to the front. "We just need a few more hours to make some minor adjustments before we can hand it over to Zane for installation."
Cole frowns at me and I avert my eyes guiltily for not paying attention. He then turns to Jay. "Alright then. Zane, Ayane, you two wait here until Jay and Nya finish the amplifier. The caravan doesn't go into transit until 11:30, so that allows you plenty of time to beat it and get into position. But still, work fast you guys. I want Zane and Ayane to be able to leave as soon as possible… We don't need any surprises."
"No worries," Jay says again easily.
I catch Sasha's eye and the silent question of concern on her lips. I subtly shake my head in dismissal and tighten my hold on Jay's hand. When he responds by pulling me closer to his side, a welcomed wave of calm caresses me and I lean slightly against him.
He was there for me last night…as always. I couldn't sleep, being belligerently plagued with these nagging thoughts of disaster. And since my roommate was elsewhere (I easily guessed where), I was left alone in the moonlit room with only a slumbering Mydnyte to keep me company. In the past, I had always been the one to go to Jay's room when something was troubling me during the twilight hours. So you could imagine my surprise when he suddenly appeared at my door to retrieve me. He gave me a somewhat shy smile and silently took my hand. And he didn't let go. Not even when we reached his room. Not even when we cuddled together in his bed. Not even when I finally found peace and drifted off to sleep, locked in his embrace and comforted by the steady rhythm of his heart.
I continually felt the warmth of his body, the security of his hand all through the night until morning.
"Alright guys, stay alert and we'll keep in touch on our end. See ya tomorrow." Cole grabs his and Sasha's overnight bags and leaps over the railing. Sasha stops before following after Cole and looks pointedly at me.
"We'll talk later," she says knowingly, then sweeps her gaze over the others. "Stay safe everyone." Soon, she's gone too.
In a matter of seconds, we all see the Tread Assault launch over the cliff and speed off in the direction of the dreary Monsoon in the distance.
"What's their problem," Lloyd mumbles. "Could they be anymore repetitious?"
"Cole is still deeply concerned about Slithraa's last words," Zane rationalizes in the ninja leader's defense. "Despite his participation in the camaraderie last night at dinner, I doubt he obtained any sleep."
"Yeah but, isn't that how he normally is?" I turn to look at Kai, his back against the mast with his arms crossed. "The guy's a total worrywart! Don't you guys remember Sensei Wu telling us that Cole doesn't sleep the night before a mission?"
There's a silence of agreement. And it looks like Sasha's formed a similar habit as well…
Ayane has confirmed on more than one occasion that Sasha spends nights prior to missions with Cole in his room. The restless meanderings of the leaders prove just how dedicated they are in not only insuring the success of a mission, but also the safety and wellbeing of the clan. Not one of their strategies have ever been misconstrued, however I still believe that they need to appoint second-in-commands, if only for reassurance purposes.
The leak in the heavens worsens as more drops fall and thunder quakes the air in passionate clarity. The dark skies festers its humidity until it's almost choking to me. What I thought in the beginning to it being just a forebodingly bad storm, it has drudged up memories from the past with its growing minacity.
I give a mental shake and broaden my resilience. The near black skies don't lie though. We are in for black showers. With another almighty growl of thunder from above, we are finally assaulted by the downpour. The thick drops fall loud and quick upon the deck, reminiscent of rapid knocks on one's door.
"C'mon!" Kai yells over the strengthening rain, already striding briskly towards the cabin's double doors. "Let's get inside before the water heats up!"
I keep hold of Jay's hand as we follow my brother, just behind Dominique and Ayane. Black showers undergo varying effects, but the most common is the increased temperature of the rainwater. Sometimes the temp stays consistent and refreshing and feels like you're just under a nice hot shower, and other times it can reach a boiling point and feel as painful as hot grease, blistering your skin. And I don't think anyone wants to stay here and find out which one it's going to be.
There are a few other effects that have been recorded by meteorologists, but the most dangerous to date is if the water solidifies due to the chemical imbalance in the atmosphere. Each drop will then take the shape of miniature stalactites and stab and pummel you relentlessly for the duration of the storm. I have seen the worst case scenario. Homes have been destroyed, people and animals killed with their bodies littered and impaled with thick needle-like crystals.
These storms have been dubbed "black showers" because, while they only happen during the day, when they do, the cumulous clouds grow so dark and become so plentiful that they blotch out the sun entirely and cloak the cowering landscapes in complete darkness. But their biggest offense is their malevolent interchangeable abilities.But I had been alone during that black shower… Kai had told me to stay in the room with Dad while he went to call for help… I stayed right beside him too… I didn't move… I stared unblinkingly at my father's tranquil face for I don't know how long… It was supposed to be just a normal day for a slowly healing family… So why didn't you wake up…? Why didn't you come and greet us like you always did…?
I grimace behind my mask and irritably flick my damp bangs off my forehead only for them to resume their rightful place a moment later. Black shower occurrences are rare, but when they do happen, I'm left to fight off the dreadful memories of my past. I always succeed though and this time will be no different.
"I sure hope Sasha and Cole are alright?" Ayane frets, handing towels to Dominique and Lloyd. Her eyes maneuvered over the children with maternal care before regarding us. "Maybe we should've postponed the mission for a more weather-favorable day."
Zane crosses under the arc leading to the dining room, the flap of skin along his pale forearm lifted as he utilized his other hand to press at some keys. The grace and acceleration of his gloved digits spoke of urgency, but when he replaced the flap and looked over at Ayane, his countenance displayed nothing but serene assurance.
"Sasha will shield Cole from any ill effects the black showers bring. And in any event, my dear…" Zane fingers a few of Ayane's wild golden locks fondly. "Shinobi must always be prepared to act regardless if conditions are favorable or not. One cannot let fear of the unknown stop him from acting."
Despite the blush on her cheeks, the blond huntress looks like she wants to protest, but stops, relents and deflates, her features creasing in apprehension as her eyes roam to Dominique sitting at the table. Our Phoenix was busy patting Dusk's head and face dry, a small smile lighting her lips while she worked with loving diligence. Lloyd was standing off to the side, more near the swinging doors of the kitchen than the table. He seemed to be constantly flexing his right hand, perhaps in an act of restlessness. The towel he received from Ayane draped carelessly over one of the backs of the chairs.
"Day has been overpowered by night…" Ayane whispers solemnly. "Black showers disturb the natural balance of things. I'm glad they're considered uncommon."
"Well, one thing's for sure." I peer up at Jay just as he throws his hood back. He runs a quick hand through his neatly cropped chestnut hair and levels his stare at the surrounding clan members, the lights within his sapphires brighter than usual as they naturally are during any type of storm. "Within a few hours, we'll be able to find out if the townsfolk are possessed or not."
"Huh? How do you figure?" Kai questions, an eyebrow cocked dubiously.
"Well, whether or not the caravan moves at all," Jay retorts then gives further explanation. "Typically, people run for shelter at the first sign of black showers. If they're determined to move regardless…"
He let the notion hang and the rest of us catch on quickly.
"Definitely possessed," Ebony murmurs with a slight shake of her head. "But we must also take into account the duration of the showers. 11:30 is still hours away. If the storm ends before then, we will be back at square one."
My brother's eyes suddenly widen. "Cole must've realized the same thing! The black showers are actually a blessing in disguise for once! That's why he wants Zane and Ayane in position as soon as possible! If he and Sasha spot the caravan being loaded up during the storm, he'll immediately signal for a convergence! Instead of Zane, the amplifier would only need to be installed in the Bounty's computer, and then all we'd have to do is fly over the village and blast the sacred flute melody!" Kai chuckles wryly and rubs the back of his head, his eyes planted on the hardwood floor. "I didn't even look at it from that angle…" he whispers in awe. "I guess there's more than cake in that guy's head."
Ebony crosses her arms under her chest. "We can only hope that today's events unfold in that exact tandem. If we can reduce the length of time it takes to complete this mission, we'll finally be able to begin our search for my father."
That got everyone's attention, especially Lloyd's, his eyes wide as saucers as he regards his sister with mixed emotions I can't place. Dominique is the only one who looks relatively confused.
"Um Ebony…?" Ayane begins tentatively. She walks forward and peeks out of the dining room, her hand gripping the edge of the dividing wall. There's a nervous glint in her eyes as she peers at our youngest sister from around the corner. "Cole said that we weren't to start looking for Garmadon until after Dominique decided what path she would take, remember?"
A tense silence follows, but Ebony's calm demeanor contradicts the static in the air. She gives Ayane a side-long glance. "Dominique can still take as long as she needs to. However, I refuse to rest on my laurels doing nothing when I could be doing something."You could begin training Dominique… That would be something…
I keep quiet though and watch with rising anxiety as Ebony shows her back to us, "I still find it highly improbable that he is the one who will release the Agamemnon, but if we could locate him…I'm willing to bet that he could point us in the right direction as to who the real perpetrator is. That way…we could stop the prophecy from happening altogether."
"You can't stop a prophecy from happening, Ebony," Kai puts forth aggressively, his hand clenched tightly at his side. "If anything, you'd only be prolonging the inevitable…or worst speeding it up."
The long white braid pulls up when Ebony bows her head.
"You'd take me with you this time, right ane
?!" Lloyd exclaims eagerly, but my brother whips his head around and pins the youth down with an authoritative glare.
"She's not going anywhere!"
"Yes, Lloyd…" Ebony's voice…smooth, calm, resolute. Her dark iris glows faintly in the dim lighting of the hallway as she pierces Kai with a challenging stare over her shoulder. "…I would take you with me."
The stare down between my brother and Ebony could've only lasted a moment before the latter turned away, but within that moment, I saw the disbelief and contrite in Kai's depths.
"I'm going to go check the bridge's computers for any activity," Ebony states evenly and starts forward, down the hall. Lloyd bounds after her and once he's by her side, he takes her hand. She glances down at him but says nothing. Then, they turn and disappear inside the den.
I can still see them despite their retreat. The children of Garmadon… Their linked hands…a consensual agreement to try and go against fate. Are we not only in danger of losing Ebony, but Lloyd too?
"I…I'm sorry." I pivot my gaze to Dominique sitting at the table. She looks miserable, the downturn of her mouth making her expression visibly depressed. She appears just as contrite as Kai was earlier. "I am holding…everything back." Dusk's ears fold back against his head and he leans forward to nuzzle her affectionately.
"Oh no Dominique that's not it," Ayane rushes to reassure and goes to sit beside her. She brushes a few loose curls back from the girl's dispirited face. "It's not your fault at all and Ebony knows that. She's just—"
"Inexplicably in denial," Jay cuts in harshly without remorse and everyone turns to him. Kai's cutting-edge glare is back and reinforced with a promise of pain if Jay were to overstep his bounds. But my fiancé is unrelenting and unafraid, and for some reason or other pulls me back behind him when he steps forward to Kai. He points deliberately down the hall where Ebony and Lloyd took their leave.
"She pulled that last theory out of her ass, bror
! You know it and I know it!" He fires hotly. "Every time Garmadon is mentioned, she gets defensive!" Jay directs his accusatory finger to Kai next and I can only hope and pray that I'm fast enough to intervene in case my future husband does something reckless and poke my brother in the chest. He growls his next words. "Tell the truth, Kai. Who do we know more "wayward" than Garmadon? Don't say the Serpentine. They're too engrossed with themselves to even consider sharing the spotlight with another species. There's only a mere modicum of a chance that it isn't Garmadon and I only say that because the guy lacks a soul!"
Jay speaks of the prophecy. The "Wayward Soul"
is the one who will release the "Corruption"
upon Ninjago. It does seem unlikely that Garmadon would liberate the very people who had hunted him for countless years. But if not him…then who else? And if Ebony did somehow stop the prophecy, how would she go about finding her mother? Does she plan on using her amulet in some way? I just can't understand her logic.
Kai stares unflinchingly into Jay's eyes. Thick bands of liquefied gold and amber constrict around shining beads of onyx, his gaze aflame with the heat of a blacksmith's forge. The intensity of my brother's glare matches the passion of his words.
"You think I don't know that, Jay! Hell I know Garmadon is probably the evilest asshole on the planet! But you didn't see what I saw down there!" The fires in Kai's eyes die down but are far from extinguished. "Garmadon expressed genuine care and love for Ebony. He hugged her and she cried in his arms, happy to be reunited with one of the persons responsible for bringing her into this world. I couldn't deny her the pleasures of having a parent. She's not like us and I don't mean because of the obvious reasons. I mean because she grew up not knowing anything about her parents while we did. We had loving homes. We had our parents…" His gaze lowers, "…however brief."
My heart constricts painfully as my mind once again reflects upon the past and a slight flinch jerks my body when a shock of lightning sounds from outside, but as always I fight through it.
Kai takes a deep breath, getting over his weakness and pain just like I am and re-strengthens his stare. "And you… You have the luxury of still having both parents in your life. So y'know what, Jay…?" Golden-amber narrows further. "You don't even have the right
to speak to her about family."
The hand in my grasp trembles. "No…t-that's not what I was…" Jay struggles and I step forward to stand beside him. I shoot an uncertain glance at my brother, not truly angry with him, but he still could've used nicer words.
Jay is the luckiest out of all of us in the aspect of parents. And the fact that he seldom visits them or when they do show up for a visit on their own, he's doesn't exactly display the type of warmth one would expect towards their parents. I know he loves them, but there had been many a time when I had wanted to pinch him or pull his ear in chastisement for not realizing how blessed he was for having Ed and Edna.
I was jealous…and not only of Jay.
I was jealous of Sasha when she got the chance to visit her mother in Poseidonia and later when she found out her father was still alive. But I experienced envy firsthand when we visited Shika. The sight of Ayane jumping into the arms of her uncle caused a painful twinge to erupt in my chest.
I couldn't do that anymore. I had lost that satisfaction years ago, in the most unfair and premature way. I would never again hear my mother's soft melodious voice sing to me while she lovingly ran a comb through my hair. I would never again get the chance to ask my father questions about pieces of his metalwork while he worked tirelessly in the forge within 4 Weapons
But…at least I have memories of those times. Can I really fault Ebony for wishing to create such memories with a family she never had?
, please…" (Brothers) Zane had suddenly appeared on the border between Kai and Jay, his hands lifted in a placating gesture. "None of us can truly empathize with Ebony, but we can surely sympathize," he voices wisely and moves his hands to each of his brothers' shoulders. "Her family is scattered and I sense that more than anything, she wants a reunion. She has already lost an uncle. She does not want to lose anyone else."
I nod at Zane, pleased with his choice of words. "It would be cruel to deny her that right," I say, looking up at Jay's solemn face, but then I turn to Kai. "But, it would also be dangerous to let Ebony do whatever she wants."
"I know, sis," Kai counters roughly though his eyes have softened. "So how do we go about compromising?"
I shake my head. "Nothing can be done right now. All we can really do is keep an eye on both her and Lloyd." I squeeze my fiancé's hand tenderly and place my other hand on his chest, gazing up at him once more. "And we can't afford to argue about it any longer. There is a mission, remember?"
Jay swallows and nods readily. "Yeah, you're right, sweetheart. Sorry…" He looks across to Kai. "Sorry, bro. I care about Ebony too. After all, she's both my precious student and my badass little sister," he smiles and despite the red hood obstructing my brother's face, I just know he's returning Jay's grin with a forgiving smirk.
"And about Lloyd…" We all turn to regard Ayane's hopeful two-tone irises. "If there's a chance Ebony's mother is alive, isn't there a possibility that Lloyd's is too?"
I purse my lips in thought. Yeah, there's always hope for that…
"Maybe…" Kai mutters and I see his eyes shift in an almost suspicious way. My brow furrows on instinct, knowing my sibling well enough to guess when he's hiding something. But before I can call him out on it, he turns and walks away. "I'm going to go check on them," he says distantly and he too soon vanishes inside the den.By the Gods! Don't tell me your kin follows after Oblivion!
Tempest accuses incredulously in my mind. However, I'm quick to defend my brother.No, of course not! He's…probably just distracted by Ebony that's all. And even if he was…I'm sure it's not consequential.
I know I don't sound very convincing when Tempest huffs in indignation. Nya, I know I don't have to remind you on the direness of the overall situation your realm is in. Any information, consequential or not, should be divulged!Calm down, Tempest.
I try to soothe the ruffled spirit with some light teasing. Hmm, I would think it unbecoming for one of the Four to lose their cool about such a trivial matter. And what's with this "Nya" business? What happened to "Little Gale"?
A brief pause. …Your future mate is rubbing off on you…
I can only blush and smile to myself.
"Zane, gives us a few alright?" Jay says, rousing me. "We'll contact you when the amplifier is ready."
Zane dips his head in a respectable nod and Jay turns to me with a smile. "C'mon, sweetheart. We'd better get crackin'."
I return his smile. Though it's barely distinguishable behind my mask, I know my eyes fully express my contentment. We face the opposite hallway and together, with linked hands as well, make our own departure.
To get to me and Nya's laboratory bunker below the ship, we have to go down and through the Ninja Training Hall. The Hall has a door located in the back which connects to a service ramp that leads to the bunker.
Which means…once we pass through that door we'll be exposed to the black showers and whatever trippy effect they have decided to plague the atmosphere with.
Doesn't that sound fun!?
I unconsciously tighten my hold on my girl's hand and use my other to pull my hood back on. Regardless of it being a straight shot to the bunker once we exit, I'm not taking any chances of losing her. I mean come on! It's going to be pitch black out there! And I mean pitch, pitch black! Blacker than Cole's hair black! Not a single ray of light will show unless Lord Thor blesses us with a display of power.
And yeah, I know he's out there, if the lapses of thunder and constant stirring in my blood are anything to go by. There's always this magnetizing pull my lord has on me during storms that behest thunder and lightning. It's like an almighty summon to my core that tempts and beckons me to hop into my Storm Fighter and fly up to the midst of it and just watch the sheer grandeur of Lord Thor's might. And I do sometimes. The temptations are just that great. But today, I'm railing against the urge the best I can, especially since the "lovely" storm that beckons is a black-freakin'-shower!Deepest apologies, your mighty Thunderness. I'll be taking a rain check, thank you very much!
"Maybe it's not so bad," Nya speculates softly, but I hear more ambiguity than optimism in her voice.
We stand at the ready in front of the door that leads to the outside, and just as I move to grasp the metal lever, a ferocious growl followed by a deafening crack roars from beyond the barrier and reverberates throughout the entire Hall.
I can't keep the sardonic grimace from forming on my lips. Oh yeah, nothing but gumdrops and ice cream out there…
Steeling myself, I follow-through and take hold of the handle. I glance back at Nya to make sure she's ready, but stop to do a double-take on her expression. I don't need to see the entirety of my girl's face to assess her state of being. The eyes are the windows to the soul, as the saying goes and I can tell she's deeply distressed. Her eyes are frightfully dilated and wide, with only a sliver of milk chocolate circling dark disks.
It looks like she's been spirited away to a dark void within her subconscious, but from my experience I know she isn't conversing with the spirit that houses itself inside her bladed gauntlets. She and the other Kunoichi get a little glassy-eyed when that happens, sure, but nothing to this extent.
"Nya?" I call gently; a bit unsure with what's going on. Her hand is limp yet rigid in mine and her body's as still as a statue. I call her name again and take a chance and squeeze her hand to see if I can get a response. Then, as if a switch is suddenly flipped, her form visibly relaxes and she squeezes my hand back. She blinks up at me, soft cocoa dominating over onyx once more.
"Yeah? Are you ready?" She asks innocently enough, her eyes bright and alert.
I scrutinize the woman I love steadily and unhurried. Yeah, we have a mission but…I'm not Cole… The mission can wait… Nya is far more important…
"Are you okay?" I ask, letting go of the door and turning to face her fully. A flicker of annoyance and frustration settles in her eyes and I could discern the set of her jaw beneath the thin cloth of her mask. I frown at the sight. Was I not supposed to notice her "deer-caught-in-headlights" look from before? Was I not supposed to adhere to her wellbeing?
"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" She refutes exasperatedly, but I'm not convinced. I know what I saw.
I don't soften my expression and after seeing the hardness in my eyes, she decides to step around me to get to the door. "Seriously Jay, I'm—"
Just as her fingers close around the handle, she yelps in pain and jerks her hand back, pulling it up to her chest and cradling it with the other. Alarmed at once, I step quickly to her side. "Nya! What happened?!" I ask anxiously, but her consternated gaze doesn't remove itself from the door.
"Dear Sylph…" she whispers nervously, "the handle…the handle is boiling hot…!"
I snap my head to the access then back to Nya's slightly blistered fingers. My eyes narrow. Of course. My hands are protected by thick leather gloves, but Nya's, while protected by gloves too, her fingers are exposed.However…
I let my gaze drift back to the door leading to the outside, its stature now an imposing sight. Just what was on the other side of it? Hellfire? Acid? My features take on a new level of hardness. Argh! I know this mission is important, but…
I flick my eyes to Nya briefly and see her still clutching her hand. No, I'll go alone—
"I'm still coming with you, Jay." Not as soon as I finished my thought, Nya spoke up to banish it. I peer at her with a fair bit of trepidation. I guess my eyes said it all because the soft chocolate of her optics solidified instantly into opaque bronze. "Yes, I know you can finish the amplifier by yourself, but it would also take longer
by yourself and we are already pressed for time." My eye twitches in a vague sort of wince at her reasoning. It's true but…
"Two heads are better than one," she presses, "and…" I watch transfixed as the flash hardened bronze melts away to smooth milk chocolate once more, "I can't just stand here and let you face something dangerous alone. We're partners, Jay. And soon we're going to be partners for life. I know you worry, but…" she shakes her head and her eyes shine up at me again. I can easily discern the appreciation and heartfelt apology within her warm depths. "I want to stand beside you…through everything."
I blink. Breath. And blink again. I realize in shock that there's no getting used to this feeling in my chest: the swell of my heart, the pleasurable electric jolts coursing through my soul.Yeah Jay…this is what true everlasting love feels like…
I grin toothily at her beneath my hood and scoop her up in my arms. My name pours from her masked lips breathlessly, matching the subtle alarm of her widened eyes.
"Okay, future Mrs. Walker!" I erupt joyously. I can't help it! I'm completely stoked right now! I meet my bride-to-be's gaze with a sure grin. "Let's pretend this is a practice run before the real thing! Carryin' the bride over the threshold into her new home!"
"Jay…" Her eyes, while still open, crease into happy crescents. My heart flutters swiftly before I swivel my focus to the opposing door that most likely led to Hell itself. I set my jaw and narrow my eyes determinedly. "Only there are a few rules first. Don't worry; this is only a safety precaution for the current situation. There will be no such nonsense during the real thing!"
I lean forward carefully and grip the handle tight. "Okay, sweetheart. Keep that pretty lil' face of yours turned away from the open air, and close your eyes too. Same for your hands, keep them covered the best way you can."
I can feel her eyes on me. "Alright," she replies steadily and snuggles closer to my chest, following my instructions to the letter. I wish there was something I could do about her head being exposed, but all I can rely on is my speed to get us across the service ramp and into the lab bunker before anything…unfortunate
"On three…" I whisper and get into position. I coil my muscles readily, my body as taut as a bowstring and my arms maintain a strong hold on my precious cargo. "One…two…" I grit my teeth and push down on the lever forcefully, "…three!"
The door gives way and I charge forth. I gasp and cough reflexively when I'm suddenly assaulted by the rapid change of humidity. I feel like I'm in a boiler room with one too many blast furnaces occupying it! The complete and utter blackness I'm fine with since I've tread this metal pathway many times before, but this degree of heat is downright detrimental!
I work my legs rapidly, but I don't beat the next shift of hot wind. Berating myself for not closing my eyes the moment I stepped out, I catch a boiling drop of water in my left one. I grunt, effectively stunting the yelp that threatened to escape instead and quickly shut my eyes. The harsh stinging sensation is immediate, but I ignore the pain and reach blindly for the door when I feel the path nearing its end.
My hand slides down the surface until I can grasp the handle and with a fluid downward motion, the door opens and grants me access. I close the door desperately after shuffling in and lean back against it.Shit, shit, shit!
Within only a few seconds, the burning has increased ten-fold.
"Jay? Jay!" I can feel Nya slide out of my arms and her hands frantically pull back my hood. The warm fingers on my face bring me limited comfort, although I try to relish in it anyway. "Jay! Jay, open your eyes!"
"Huh? O-Oh, okay…" I vaguely realize that I hadn't yet. Even though I know my right one is fine, I still use caution in opening it and immediately focus in on Nya's wide and worried chocolate eyes.
"Okay, now your other one," she orders gently, then almost as an afterthought she adds, "Can you see okay out of that one?"
I stand up straighter and absently roll my shoulders. "Yeah, no prob," I assure and simply open the other. I swallow at the sudden blurriness and distortion my left retina presents me with, but I still offer a grin to play it off. I guess it's a little lop-sided though because her worry doesn't fade.
"They look okay…still beautiful…but, can you see? Out of both?"
I open my mouth, ready to pour out some reassurance and bravado, but at seeing her anxiety I stop. If it were someone else, sure I would've cut loose, not wanting to appear weak in front of them. However, this is Nya and I promised I would always be honest with her.
I close my mouth and open it again albeit reluctantly. "Uh…*sigh*… Unfortunately, I was struck by a stray drop in my left one and…now it's blurry and…" I wince at the annoyingly persistent stinging/burning sensation that lingers, "…and kinda burning…yeah…"
Her eyes widened on her face momentarily before they narrow, her forehead drawn down in fretful deliberation. Utilizing two fingers, she pulls her mask down to reveal her pursed lips. She grabs hold of my hand purposefully.
"C'mon, let's get you to the rinse station," she says curtly while leading me to the opposite side of our lab. I follow obediently, my half blurred gaze downcast to the slate metal floor. I blink again and have to huff irritably when I feel tears trail down my left cheek.Bah… Now what's happening to it?!
I swipe at my face quickly to remove the wetness on it that hadn't dripped from my chin. No sense in making her witness me "crying" too…
It's not long before I'm sitting on a stool with my back against the edge of the sink. I can't help but make light of the situation, however, so I send another smile to my girl, this time making sure it was more earnest. But to my chagrin, Nya scarcely blinked. Broadcasting the same tightly controlled consternation, her focus is zeroed-in behind me, over my head. Her arms move above me and although I can't see exactly what's she's doing, I can certainly assume she was checking the medicated rinse dispenser.
An eerie sort of silence then settles over us. It isn't entirely uncomfortable mind you, only…dissonant. It seems the black showers have quieted a little bit since we came in. But for reasons pertaining to the mission, I hope they will continue for a little while longer.
I gnaw gently on my lower lip, feeling the unmistakable urge to say something to fill the voided silence. I lift my eyes to my fiancée again, deciding to close my left one so her image wouldn't be distorted, and look her over.She looks fantastic as always but…
"Are you okay too, Nya?" I ask for clarification and her movements above me come to a slow standstill, a tiny smile that gradually reaches her eyes is directed at me.
"Yes, I'm alright…" She grins, though I can still see the worry. "Your speed can be assessed as legendary. I didn't feel one drop of rain."
My face splits into a mile-wide smile. "Good! That's what I was hoping for!" I deftly remember something else. "What about your fingers? I know we have some aloe vera stashed somewhere in one of these cupboards."
She nods languidly. "They're not that bad, but I'll put some on once I take care of you," she compromises.
We stare at each other for a moment, me with my carefree exuberance and her with her stifled contentment. I'm taken aback, however, when the lights within her eyes suddenly quiver before they resume their attention behind me. A second later, I hear the tap of the faucet squeak on and the trickle of water fall.
"Lean back…" she instructs, her voice barely above a whisper, "…the water will warm quickly."
My gaze remains on her face as I silently comply, a small frown now marring my features. The pain in my left retina is insistent, but I thwart its efforts to sway me from thinking about Nya's melancholy.
Her gaze drifts back to me and I open my left eye at her unspoken request. She rinses my eye once, twice, three times and during it all, I don't flinch. I feel cold, but it's not from the water that now soaked my hair and drenched my face. Over the course of our relationship, I've become much attuned to Nya's emotions. Well, at least I would like to think so. And now I'm beginning to feel anxiety gnaw at the pit of my stomach.
But…is it mine or hers? And would she be affronted if I decide to call her out on it again?
I close my eyes despondently, my heart and mind waging a tumultuous war with each other. I know Nya is extremely independent, more so than any other person on this ship. Her self-reliance plays a major part in her personality whether it's on the battlefield or everyday life. I heard from Kai that when it was just the two of them, Nya did more than her share of the work around the house and even though Kai carried his own weight, whenever he had offered to help her, she would deny his hand and shoo him away.But…I just feel that I can't leave her to stew about in her own inner turmoil. Because, well, because I feel it too. After all, didn't she say she wants to stand beside me through everything? Well then she has to know that it's twofold…
I slowly open my eyes when I hear my name play serenely from Nya's lips. I feel a soft cloth to my face and realize she's patting it dry. Her features are soft, but unfortunately still blurry from my left eye's perspective.
"There… The burning's gone now, right?" She asks, her gentle eyes fleeting over my face. The cloth had been replaced with her fingers.
I nod and the small smile stretches slightly, enough to lift her cheeks more. But her relief is short-lived, and her expression takes a pensive turn.
"The blurriness though… I'm not naïve enough to believe it'll be gone after just a few washes. We'll repeat the process four hours from now, for the next twenty-four. Hopefully by then…no… I'm sure
by then the blurriness will be gone."
I feel myself nodding at her words again, more involuntary than responsive. I close my left eye, wanting to see her clearly and sit up straight. The water from my hair immediately drizzles down to my face, forming separate paths at different speeds.
Nya takes her cloth in hand for a second time and moves to remedy the problem, but I intercept her attempt and grasp the clothed-hand decisively in mine. I smile at her questioning eyes and beckon her with a tug to sit in my lap. And she complies without rebuttal.
I make no move to try to wipe the water from my face and instead just focus on my girl and speak my mind.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but…to me, the wedding itself is not all that important."
She blinks. I know my statement is really out-of-the-blue and has no context at all to what just happened, but despite that, I feel I have to finish what I started. No matter how roundabout it may seem.
"What I mean is…that it's just a process to making it official, to have it printed down in front of you in black and white. I don't know if I'll feel any different when the pastor announces us as man and wife or even after I kiss you. The reason being is because I already feel married to you and I know this may sound a bit pretentious, but…" I stop and can only look at her with honesty and hope and pray that she doesn't think I am some type of spoiled brat when I say my next words.
A few strands lose their place and fall into my right eye, but again, I do nothing to alter my appearance. I keep my one good eye locked on her bewildered gaze and open my mouth. "Nya, I've felt that I've been married to you for a few months now."
Her eyes widen considerably and her mouth struggles to form words and sounds. Seconds pass during her gaping, but finally it stops when she closes her mouth with an audible click. Then, like a blooming hibiscus, a tender shade of red slowly spreads on her face, from her cheeks on outward.
I grace her with a smile, which I can only hope matches the beauty of her face and raise my hand to settle it on her scarlet cheek. "I can't describe to you step by step on how I came to that conclusion. I'm not as eloquent or dramatic as all that. But what I can tell you is…how everything within me: mind, heart, and soul, is connected to you. I'm not gonna be presumptuous and say that you also feel this way, but the words you spoke so lovingly in the Hall made me what to clarify to you my own aspirations."
My thumb smoothes adoringly over her cheek, I just want her to understand. "I feel you Nya… I feel your pain, your happiness, your fear, your ecstasy. You don't have to do or feel anything alone. Time and time again we walked the same path, but more times than what I would've liked, you were either in front or behind me. Or I was in front or behind you."
She grits her teeth and her eyes shimmer in fresh tears. However, she refuses to let them fall, blinking rapidly to stifle their flow. I smile encouragingly. "But, those few precious times where we did reach perfect equilibrium and walked the same path side by side, shoulder to shoulder… I've kept those instances close to my heart, always wanting more of them. Where I'm going with all this, sweetheart is that…though I want that precious perfection with you as much as possible… I won't rush you nor will I try to push you. Just…come to me when you're ready…and I'll be here…right beside you."
She had been reduced to gasping by the time I'd finished, her eyes obstinately squeezed shut, her hands trembling and fisting themselves in the edges of my robes. I move my hand from her cheek to cradle the back of her head, and gently coax her to rest it on my shoulder.
I wrap my arms protectively around her. "It's alright to cry sometimes, you know that. You're still strong. Relying on me or anyone else when you're hurting…does not diminish your strength."
Her head shifts and she presses her face into the cloth of my shoulder. Her body moves next, snuggling as close as she can to me in our somewhat unorthodox position. A smile of nostalgia curves my lips as I place an arm under the knees of her legs to support her better.
We are in the same position as we were before coming here, only now I'm sitting down.
Cold water leaks from my chin and into the seams of my robes, chilling me. But the effect is negated when I feel Nya's hot tears soak my clothes soon after. Her small frame convulses, and her breathless sobs echo a defeated siren's song off the walls of the bunker.
She cries…and cries… and cries…
All I can do is hold her, having said all the words I needed to. Now I'll simply wait for her to speak…if she chooses to.
Whether time is flowing or standing still, I don't know nor care, but Nya's breathing has mellowed into deep elongated breathes. And when I look at her through the mussed silken raven locks her hair has become, I see her sodden red eyes and wet cheeks. She stares at nothing that I can see, and when she finally begins to speak, her voice sounds strained, hoarse, and hollow.
"Kai and I…we found our father dead in his bed during the morning of a black shower…"
At her words, my blood runs cold. When she speaks again, the utter despair and sadness in her voice is damn near palpable.
"He was just fine the day before, you know? It had only been two years since Mother was killed, but we were slowly moving forward, day by day. My father was a strong man, Jay. He would never give up!" Her voice rose with each word and the strength and angry conviction behind them tugged violently at my heartstrings. "So I don't care what the autopsy report said! My father would never do something as foolish and cowardly as overdose on fucking sleeping pills! If he was going to take his own life, then he would've committed seppuku
to release his soul and die honorably! But he would never do that either if he had children to care for! He wouldn't just leave us! He wouldn't!"
Her eyes had become wide and dilated again; a massive thunderstorm raged within her being that I couldn't possibly understand. "Nya…"
I give her the security she needs and hold her as close and protectively as I can, her body stiff and unresponsive in my arms. I add a slow rocking motion as I cradle her, in hopes of soothing the obvious anguish she's in. I grit my teeth and start to berate myself inwardly for being unable to do more when I remember Zane's words from earlier.
When one cannot empathize, sympathize.
I cannot understand Nya's pain, not even a little bit, but I can offer her my sympathy. I can
I kiss the top of her head and position her better so that I can run my fingers through her hair. She lets out a strangled breath and soon, I feel her arms wrap around my neck and back. Her next words are whispered, but the undertone is steady and somewhat askance.
"I didn't know what to think when Kai returned with Ebony, our father's katana, the Masamune, in his hand. I was initially angry with him for disrupting the peace of our past home. But…what he said made sense… 'We have a piece of Mother with us. It's about time we have a piece of Father with us as well.'."
Her grip on me tightens and I can feel her warm breath ghost over the skin on my neck. "Kai keeps Father's Masamune and I keep Mother's wakizashi
, the Kunimichi, and her bangle bracelets. Whether I'm holding my mother's keepsakes or not, I feel her spirit around me…" Her voice drops an imperceptible octave. "…I can't say the same with my father's though… I cannot feel his spirit at all, not even when I'm standing in Kai's room staring right at the Masamune… What does that mean, Jay?"
The genuine uncertainty and bewilderment of her tone shakes me. This wasn't a rhetorical question; she really wants me to answer.But what can I say…? That maybe the spirit of her father was still trapped inside his body because he didn't commit seppuku? Or that maybe because she associates the black showers with her father's death, her spirit is clouded and hinders the ability to feel his spirit?
Neither thought appealed to me enough to voice. So when she lifts her head from my shoulder and peers at me with melancholic expectancy, I swallow hard.
"Nya…" I waver, clearly at a lost. But when she gradually lets warmth renew her features and lifts a hand to cup my cheek, I stare at her dumbfounded.
She smiles affectionately. "Can you open both your eyes for me, Jay?"
I snap the other open immediately, rushing to help in any way I can to dispel her sorrow. The blurriness is unwelcome, of course, but it's a small price to pay for seeing her face brighten. Her smile, as always, is infectious and I find myself easily smiling back.
Her nimble fingers play with the hair on the base of my neck and when I see her inching towards me, her eyes locked on mine, I feel that a new understanding between us is slowly being revealed. My eyes hood then drift shut the moment her lips mold themselves against mine, and as rapture and euphoria blossoms within me, I have to think to myself: Maybe words aren't always needed to portray one's intent.
Nya knows that I'm here for her and I'm here to stay.
I pour all of my emotions and intent into the kiss, holding her just as tight as she's holding me. And there's no doubt in my mind that she understands, her passion and love equal with mine.
Sometime later, we found ourselves up and about. The black showers continued wrecking havoc outside, drenching the lands with their abysmal terror, but here, inside our little laboratory bunker, inside our safe haven, all is quiet and tranquil. Nya told me she could differentiate between a normal storm and a black shower without having to look outside, the memory of her father's lifeless face becoming plastered to the forefront of her mind's eye whenever one's brewing on the horizon. She still tenses at a growl of thunder or a crack of lightning during a black shower, but I always manage to bring her back to me with a firm quick squeeze to her left hand.
Whether time slowed for us or we worked with incredible speed and diligence, I don't know nor do I care. All I cared about was the woman standing beside me, my wife, here and now. As long as we walked the same path together, side by side, for all eternity, I could do anything.
We smiled at each other when the last wire was welded and our work was complete.
We finished the amplifier…with plenty of time to spare.