Early morning at Crescent Isle. The ground was still damp of dew. The air was cool and crispy. The sun had started to warm, only the shadows were the last outposts of the night’s coldness. It all looked so peaceful. It would be hard to imagine that this calm place was a base with Air Pirates.
No matter how strange sight it was; it was really Vyse who had got out of bed this early hour. He had awoke, realised it was too early, but then decided to be a good example. Being the captain, it was always first one in and last one out. Sometimes he could miss his more carefree life before he became captain. As the leader of these Air Pirates, he had a great deal of responsibility. But no matter, the small cons was overshadowed by the enormous pros. He would do this, no matter what. And being together with his favourite girls aka best friends made everything great. If he could handle them, he could handle anything.
And talking about Aika and Fina, the silvite could be seen in the distance. She had just emerged out of the cave, in which she had been occupied last night, and made her way towards the living quarters. Vyse decided to go and meet her.
As he came closer, Vyse saw Fina had her eyes almost closed, and she walked a bit, not wobbly, but sluggish. Carrying a brown leather pounce; she had her gaze at the ground. Then she looked up and spotted him.
“Good morning, Fina,” Vyse said. “Up early?”
“Really?” Fina yawned and hid the pounce behind her back. “Is it…morning already?”
“Now wait here a second, have you been up all night!?”
“Well, if it’s morning, then… yes. If I’m not dreaming this, that is.”
Now Vyse saw that Fina’s eyes were not just tired, but also quite red and puffy. She had that sort of gaze which told of a grand tiredness. What ever could she have done that was so important that she had to neglect sleep?
“Okay, no more kidding around!” Vyse said. “Just what have you been doing?”
“Five pairs of lemon-coloured socks in Aika’s dresser with a huge hug.”
It took some seconds before he fully understood what she had said, and he still couldn’t believe he had heard her right.
Fina’s answer to this was not expected. She laughed, however slightly. Her head tilted back and forward, as she tried to focus on him.
“Ooh, Vyse. You… know I can’t tell you… yet.”
“What if I want to know!?”
“Well, at least I didn’t plunder the Delphinus’s quarter engine. It was all Don’s idea, and he said he would use it to blow up all paprika in the whole world. I’d get a share of it if I kept quiet.” She laughed again.
Fina talked with a slight delay on her words. Even if it seemed as she was thinking very hard before she spoke, it still was complete nonsense. Maybe she was too exhausted to think clearly. But from what?
Vyse suddenly remembered yesterday when he had explained what ‘high’ meant. Fina did seem a bit muddled. Not just because he had never seen her like this, but he had seen this sort of acting in others… after a drinking-round. Expecting the worst, he leant towards her and took a quick sniff at her face.
“Do I smell good?” she answered with suppressed giggle. “Gunpowder and lubricate is a great perfume, don’t you think?”
Fina didn’t smell of loqua. Then he could exclude that. And that left…
“Fina,” Vyse started and put his hands on her shoulders. “Now I want you to answer truthfully. Are you using any drugs?”
Those words seemed to hit, and they slowly washed away all Fina’s jolliness. She half-closed her eyes and laid her hand upon his.
“I… know what drugs mean,” she said. “That’s… why I never would get near… such things. Ever. I’m not a junker.”
“Whatever.” She paused. “I don’t want you to worry about me.”
“Of course I’m worried! Why wouldn’t I!?”
“If you let me finish. I appreciate your concern, it’s very kind that you care. But right now there’s nothing wrong with me at all. See, I don’t want you to feel troubled… about me or anything.”
“If you do, I do.”
“That’s what I meant. I’m fine, except I haven’t slept for almost a whole day. But now I promise you, Vyse, I will tell you tomorrow.” She giggled. “Or today, I guess.”
At least it was one step forward.
“Just as long as you’re alright,” Vyse said. “Are you going to get some sleep now?”
“At least for some hours,” Fina replied in a drowsy voice. “Is it very late… early… both?” She giggled again.
“Let’s just say yes,” Vyse said.
By a sudden impulse, Vyse took Fina under her arm and started to walk. Fina herself didn’t seem surprised, at first.
“Look now, Vyse,” Fina said. “I can walk on my own. And what if someone sees us? What will they think?”
“Probably just what everybody around here thinks already.”
“Except for that. They might… think I’m wasted.”
“Or totally tipsy.”
“Tips…? I’m not. I don’t have any hints or tips. I’m the one going around and ask about just anything, you know.” She laughed.
“Remind me to not give you a penny for your thoughts,” Vyse sighed. “Now you really seem gone.”
“My thoughts are ma-a-gic,” Fina said, and then started to giggle. “Oh, dear. I didn’t say that, did I?”
“Great,” Vyse groaned. “Now five of your thoughts will equal one brass coin.”
“But Vyse I’m… don’t you remember I don’t know what money is…” After Fina said that, she burst into such laughter that she had to stop and grab Vyse so she wouldn’t fall. “Sorry,” she gasped. “But have you ever heard of an Air Pirate who doesn’t know what money is?”
Vyse knew that lack of sleep would make anyone laugh at just about anything, but Fina really took the concept sleep deprivation to a whole new level.
They reached the living quarters, went up the stairs and soon they stood outside Fina’s door. After a quick goodnight and good morning, Fina went into her room. Vyse remained outside.
It was quite disturbing to realise he hadn’t bought her story completely. Sure, Fina had promised she would tell him about this whole thing she had been doing, and she always kept her promises. But then again, she had seemed too gone. OK, it might be a “worst case” scenario, but if it was true… it would be dire.
Having settled his mind, he carefully opened her door.
Fina lay on her bed, fully dressed and fully sleeping. Her left hand rested on her waist, the right one held the pounce she had tried to protect. Her chest rose and sunk in time with her calm breathing. Eyes closed. Totally peaceful, no idea what was going on around her.
Vyse knew it was relatively risk-free. When Fina did something, she went in for it totally; even when it came to sleeping. He sometimes joked that anyone could put Fina upside down in her sleep without her noticing it. Or, if you wanted to be really nasty, put her on a ship going to Ixa’taka. Vyse had tried neither, but knew Fina would remain sleeping. Else: he would be tossed into the sky, or be declared a first-class pervert. Both alternatives were bad.
Vyse glided into her room and carefully closed the door behind him. Silently, he tiptoed up to her bed. It was just a moment’s work for Vyse to gently snatch the pounce from her fingers. With one last look at her face, he opened the seal to Fina’s secrecy.
It was empty.
There was a knock at the window. Vyse quickly turned his gaze, expecting all the population of Crescent Isle to peek on him. Luckily, it was just Cupil. The silvite creature made an expression which looked like a grin, and then he flew away.
I guess I couldn’t outsmart you that easily, Vyse thought. Fina just kept sleeping.
He threw a glance towards her face. It was like staring straight into the innocence itself. Now first, Vyse realized how foolish his hunch was. Well, at least his intentions were good. But of course Fina wouldn’t do such bad stuff. She didn’t even taste loqua, so why should she sniff garpa-seeds?
Carefully, Vyse snuck up to her closet and opened up the door. The hinges squeaked a bit, but Fina continued to sleep. Vyse was not the one who would poke around in other people’s stuff, and definitely not a girl’s stuff, but he wasn’t out for her personal things or clothes. From the middle shelf he brought out a blanket, tiptoed back to Fina’s bed, and laid it over her. Standing just next to her, he had a pretty good look at her. Usually, she looked quite cute. But now, sleeping, her angelic features could make any heart melt like butter in Nasr. Tenderly he tucked her in, and started to get out. At the door, he stopped, turned around for one last look. Vyse covered his mouth, kissed his palm, and blew it towards Fina.
“Sweet dreams,” he whispered.
Fina woke to the sound of insistent beeps. She opened her sleepy eyes and got a look at the sound’s origin: Cupil.
The spud did not work only as a weapon. He could even be used as an alarm watch. Fina herself felt like rolling over and going back to sleep, but when she remembered what had happened last night and what would happen today, she sat straight up, her face cut by a happy smile. Cupil beeped again and flew closer to her.
“Good morning, Cupil,” she said and patted him on his head. “Do you have them?”
Cupil opened his mouth and made the real leather pounce fall down into Fina’s hand. A quick look inside verified that they remained. Fina couldn’t afford having her efforts ruined at the last instant. That’s why she had sent away Cupil with her secret. Seemingly at the last minute. This new blanket, which Fina had no memory of putting in her bed, was clear evidence that perhaps Vyse had been in to her room. And he complained that she had walked in on him! She wasn’t angry, though. If she remembered her behaviour correctly, she would’ve been worried too. And the fact he hadn’t let go of his suspicion showed that he cared. Not that Fina had doubted it, but it was heartwarming to see it for real. As Aika and Vyse would later today…
Vyse was on his way to the tavern. Now it was time for lunch. Since everything had been sorted out from the last raiding, everybody was relatively having a day off. Fina was not the only one who had taken a sleep morning. On second hand; she needed it the most. But why? What had she been doing last night?
All out of sudden, Vyse felt a huge pressure on his left shoulder. Vyse turned his head and caught a glimpse of something yellow that swished past him. At the next moment, Aika had hit the ground in front of him. Energized greetings were her speciality. With a huge grin across her face she said:
Vyse peered up at the sky.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like it’s raining redheads today.”
“Nope. It’s raining angels. And we’re right on time for the day’s highlight!”
“The day’s highlight? Don’t you include breakfast and dinner?”
“Nah, right now lunch is my favourite, ‘cause it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry.”
That was a prime-example of Aika’s “logic”.
“… I’m not even pretending I understand.”
“Like you ever have. Say, anything new about Fina?”
Vyse turned his head to see if anyone was nearby. No one was.
“Not really. Oh, I spoke to her this morning, but I got nothing new. Except that she’ll reveal it today. Whatever it is.”
“Yeah. Although, she might be mistaken. When she said it… she appeared to be quite gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone’?”
“Woozy, whimsical, weird. It was early this morning. Very early.”
“Aww, then it’s just natural. Everybody gets fun whenever they’ve just awaked or haven’t slept for a long time.”
“Sure. But Fina actually seemed high on something.”
“Oh? How high?”
Vyse pointed up at the meeting-room.
“That high?” Aika said as she peered up to where Vyse pointed. “Wow, she grows fast, doesn’t she? You better not have looked up under her skirt then.”
“What!? Don’t get stupid! You know the difference between ‘high’ and ‘high’.”
“Oh, but Vyse,” Aika grinned and nudged him with her elbow. “Don’t feel so ashamed. Everybody knows guys are legitimate pervs anyway, so why shouldn’t you have been peeping?”
“You had it coming!”
In answer to this unjust accusation, Vyse took a hard grip around Aika and quickly fell her. It all went so quick, Aika hadn’t had time to react. Vyse kneeled over her, then grabbed her wrists and crossed them over her stomach. Now he had her disarmed, while he still having one arm free.
“Hey!” said the very indignant Aika. “Not fair! I wasn’t ready for that!”
“’Not ready’?” Vyse replied. “And still you send a proclamation to war?”
“My, my, were you trying to cover something up, huh?”
“No. I’m trying to deliver punishment for speaking against your captain.” He smiled to show he wasn’t all too serious. “And to do that: try to imagine to worst thing ever and multiply it with ten. Might want to subtract a bit, and there you have it.”
“Oh, great. I’m not a math genius… AAAAAHHH, NOOO STOP IT!! VYSE STOP!!”
Aika screamed like she was getting killed, wiggled and tried to break loose. That didn’t stop Vyse. He only had one hand to work with, but he managed just fine. If he had settled for something, he would do it no matter what. And he would succeed.
Aika’s screaming had made the yaffi-sisters come out of the tavern. They watched the scene from afar.
“Oh, my,” Urala said, astonished. “I never thought he would do this. In public, I mean.”
“Me neither,” Kirala agreed. “Better not let Fina find out about it. She’d just be jealous.”
“Yes. But some thinks it’s the other way around.”
“Yeah right. And some thought our people ate with sticks. Giant sticks.”
The sisters had been quite wrong in both aspects. It had been a bit tricky for Vyse to loose up the bindings around Aika’s braids, but he had made it. Now her hair lay in a big red bundle.
“There now,” he said, laughing slightly. “That wasn’t such a chore now was it?”
“Not!? I’ll get you for this someday!”
“Don’t worry. It’s just healthy to try out something new.”
“Oh, yeah? Shall I braid YOUR hair then!?”
“No way. I would look horrible in it.” He smiled briskly. “Unlike you.”
That was an unexpected answer, and it sure made Aika brighten up. Vyse maybe wasn’t Prince Charming, but he was trying. And it was always nice to hear that you looked good. Then suddenly, she heard the sound of footsteps. As Vyse covered all of her sight, she had no clue to who it was.
“Hello,” said Fina’s voice. “What are you… oh my. What has happened with your hair, Aika?”
“It was Vyse who happened to me!”
“Not much,” Vyse answered. “I’m just trying to give Aika a decent haircut, but do you think that made her happy?”
“I’ll tell ya: fruit, treasure and loqua will do,” Aika said, then smiled devilishly. “But do you know what he just said to me? He said my braids make me look gorgeous.”
“Aika! You don’t have to say it out loud,” was Vyse’s objection, but it was too late.
“Is that so?” Fina said in an amused tone of voice. “Then maybe I’ll get braids too.”
“Yay!!” Aika exclaimed. “That’s a great idea! Just let your hair grow long enough, and then we’ll look like twins. Yeah, I can just picture it…”
Vyse himself seemed quite shocked at the imaginary sight in which Fina ran around in the infamous Aika-braids.
“Don’t bother, Fina, please,” Vyse said. “You’re…” He stopped.
“Are what?” Fina asked.
“Well…” Of course he meant what he had thought to say, but still… This if anything would enhance all rumours beyond known limits but… “That is…”
… having said “A”, he better say “B”.
“… you’re pretty just the way you are.”
Well so what!? By the way, who wouldn’t think so?
“Thank you,” Fina said, sounding glad. “You are too.”
Vyse probably looked just as amazed as he felt, because Aika started to grin at him. Fina was a bit blunt, maybe, but honest. That’s what he liked about her, among other things.
“But Fina” Aika giggled “don’t scare him like that.”
“Me scared?” Vyse said and stood up. “No way, I’m more like hungry. So, me ladies, let’s hit the tavern.”
“Sounds awfully great to me,” Aika said and leapt back up on feet, her hair hanging down long on her back.
With that said; the three friends began to walk. Vyse was in the middle of them. Being together with them both was the best thing he knew. Even though they had their outer differences, they were each other’s mirror images inside. They belonged together.
As if she had read his thought; Fina suddenly said:
“I’m so glad I’ve met you two,”
Aika stretched out and laid a hand on Fina’s shoulder.
“Hey, ditto,” she said. “That means ‘Same to you’.”
Vyse could do nothing but agree with them both. It was the three of them, as it would always be.
Aika sat in her room and trussed up her braids. No matter how strange they looked, she liked them. It was even stranger to see her with her hair combed down. At least that’s what everybody else seemed to think. Domingo had clearly given her eyes. Flattering. Thanks but no thanks mr-lovesick-lookout. Aika’s braids were her, savvy?
And by the way: Aika trusted Vyse’s taste.
As if I didn’t know that already, she thought a bit frisky. But then again: it’s nice to actually hear it.
To put it simple; there were many advantages of having a guy as best friend. As he would always be, altogether with Fina of course. The three of them would always be together.
Just as Aika had finished her braids, she heard a knock on the door.
“Enter… at own risk.”
The door opened and Fina made her entrance.
“Hello, Aika,” Fina said. “Were you busy?”
“Nah, just repairing the Aika-fortress from Vyse’s assault.”
They both laughed.
“Maybe he was paying back for yesterday's assault?” Fina giggled.
“Why bother? He’s never done that before. But if he did” Aika pointed at Fina and said with an evil voice: “You… will be next.”
“I hope not” Fina said “because now we’re going to have a session at the meeting-room.”
“Really? About what? New raids?”
“I’ll wait with that until the three of us are gathered,” was Fina’s response.
“Sooo, are you gonna reveal something?”
“Let’s just say ‘yes’.”
“Hmm, that usually means trouble coming from… me. Let’s do it!”
And thus; the two girls started to walk. Fina took the lead. Aika thought for herself that she seemed quite expectant. The redhead resisted the temptation of asking her about it. If the silvite wanted it to be a surprise, she would have it.
Finally they reached the lift, and soon they were on their way upwards. When the mechanism had stopped, they went in to the meeting room, and found Vyse sitting by the table’s left side. Aika sat down next to him while Fina closed the door.
“What’s this about?” Aika whispered to Vyse.
“No clue,” Vyse answered. “I hoped you might know something. She just told me that we were gonna have a meeting of sorts.”
By now, Fina had arrived to the table, and she sat down just in front of them.
“Well now,” Fina started. “I know I might’ve behaved a bit strange lately. But the reason for that” She made a pause. “Do you remember what happened one year ago, at this very day?”
Vyse and Aika exchanged a glance.
“Nothing I remember,” Vyse said pensive. “If you mean when the Crystal War started, it’s a couple of days left.”
Or…? Now wait a second! Just what had happened before? Did she mean…
“Unless…” Aika started.
Fina got a new sort of sincerity in her eyes.
“Yes,” Fina replied. “Today, it has passed one year since we met for the first time.”
“What?” Vyse said, greatly astonished. “Really?”
“Yes. Or, more correctly, it’s been one year since I awoke on the Albatross.”
“Oh, I… I had totally forgotten.”
“What?” Aika said. “Vyse, you forgot we’ve met Fina!?”
“That’s alright,” Fina said, smiling. “In fact… the surprise will be much bigger then.”
“Surprise?” Aika and Vyse echoed.
“That’s right. Please stretch out your hands, and close your eyes.”
Vyse and Aika did just so. The redhead still felt a bit amazed at Fina’s bomb. She had finally got the idea when Vyse mentioned the Crystal War. But when Fina actually said it out loud, well, it was strange that Fina had remembered the exact day. But to think… one year since that day. Wow! And what a wonderful time it had been.
Then Aika felt something being pressed against her palm. Something small and hard. It felt like a circle of some sort.
“Open up,” Fina said.
Vyse and Aika opened up their eyes and then saw…
“Now blow me down!” Aika exclaimed.
In their hands lay a silver ring each. It was thin, yet it still felt solid. It was decorated with tiny black markings. Very detailed and very beautiful. Also, in Aika’s ring, a tiny red stone was embedded. Vyse had got a blue one.
“Did you get one too?” Vyse said to Aika.
“Yes, did you?”
The rings did seem quite exotic. A great gift for their “one-year anniversary”. As if…
As if it would be our wedding day, Vyse thought friskily, trying not to grin at the thought.
“Did you like them?” Fina asked.
“Absolutely!” Vyse said with a sort of voice that shined just as much as his smile. “They’re great. Where did you get them?”
“Where I bought them? I didn’t buy them.”
“Aha!” Aika exclaimed. “You stole ‘em from the plundering! Way to go, Fina! Plundered fruit tastes the best, and Ixa’takan too of course.”
“I smithed them,” Fina said.
Was it true? Fina and forge was a bit strange in the same sentence, but… Then Vyse suddenly recognized the markings in the ring. They were silvitic letters! Fina had once spent some time teaching both him and Aika the silvitic alphabet.
“I see,” Vyse said. “So that’s what you were up to all day yesterday!”
Fina nodded and smiled.
“Precisely. Ryu-Kan gave me some help with the basics, but I made the details myself. Of course, I hadn’t done anything like this before so it took some time. And I did ask Belle to keep an eye out if either of you would show up. It worked quite well. It seemed to take a turn for the worse at the evening, but I think I managed to cover it.”
“Yep,” Aika said. “You sure did. I had no clue.”
All day long. No wonder Fina had worked herself exhausted and half-crazy. Actually, Vyse had once thought about throwing a party for their “one year anniversary”. But that was long ago, so he had eventually forgotten about it. And now Fina had done it. She was a real pearl. This ring he would treasure tenderly. Vyse looked a bit closer on his gift. Maybe he was wrong but it seemed like…
“Is something the matter?” Fina wondered.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like it’s glowing?”
“To me it seems like you’ve taken some weird pills,” Aika grinned. “Or… hey! Mine is glowing too!”
“Of course,” Fina said. “Moon Stones do that. Especially those from the silver moon.”
Silver Moon? Vyse quickly thought about the letter Fina had left them. ‘We’re south of the middle ocean’.
“So they’re made of Moon Stone?” Vyse said. “Now I know what you did the day before yesterday! Did you really travel to the silver region to get a Moon Stone?”
“I did,” Fina said. “Domingo helped me to find a good stone, and then we went back. It’s a nice material, and it feels good to have something of the silver moon with me.”
Fina’s hand flung down to her pocket, and then returned with a ring identical to Vyse and Aika’s, except it had a white stone embedded.
“Yes. I decided to make one for myself as well.”
“Great,” Aika said. “One for everyone of us. After all, we’re all silvites, sort of.”
“What do you mean?” Vyse asked.
“I mean” Aika started, apparently realizing she had made a blunder “we’re all from beneath the silver moon.”
“Or just next to it,” Fina stated.
“Aaw, that doesn’t matter. It’s like you’re a cousin.”
“Or” Vyse said with a warm gaze towards Fina “a long lost sister.”
Now THAT sounds better, Aika thought.
Actually, it felt like Fina had always been with them. As if fate had brought them together. Fina was something like a lost puzzle piece. They were meant to be together.
Fina herself felt deeply moved by Vyse’s words. Aika and Vyse were the two most dearest people to her. The three of them were practically one small, happy family. Maybe she had experienced several personal tragedies over the past year, but it was still the most wonderful year Fina could ever remember. And more would come.
“Now, let’s put ‘em on,” Vyse said. “Just hope it fits.”
“They will,” Fina said and slipped the ring on her finger. “I’ve taken your measurements personally.”
“When did you do that?” Vyse asked.
“The morning before I went away.”
And with that line, the last piece of the puzzle was added.
“So” Aika grinned “you did walk in on us. You perv.”
“I didn’t do anything like that!” Fina objected. “I only checked up your fingers. And besides” She smiled. “no one ever told me what tape measurement mean. I had to do it my way.”
“Great,” Vyse sighed. “’Vyse the Slow-minded’, ‘Aika the Gluttonous Imaginer’ and ‘Fina the Perv Pirate’. What a great collection of misfits we are.”
“Yeah, but we’re the best misfits,” Aika countered.
“Being the best misfit is nothing to be proud of,” Vyse objected.
“Well, you have to be grateful of the little things you get.”
“Grateful?! It’s the worst thing that can happen!”
“See my point? If it can’t get any worse, it can only get better. And if it can only be better, that’s great. Do you.. uh.. like savvy?”
Faced with that line and the whole conversation; no one of them could help laughing their socks off. But in Fina’s case, it was more a question of laughing of happiness. Vyse and Aika would never let themselves be brought down, nor would they let Fina. That’s what she liked the most with them, among many other things.
“I’m so glad you liked them,” Fina said. And I’m so glad for being with you.
“Of course,” Aika replied. She sprawled her fingers to get a good look on her new ring. “It’s shiny, it’s pretty, it fits perfectly, and it’s from you. I love it already!”
“Me too,” Vyse agreed. “But let’s go back. Before the others wonder where we are, and what we’re doing.”
They all stood up and walked to the door. She didn’t show it, but Fina did feel a tad dismayed. To just abruptly break up this honest moment of sincere friendship was just… Especially since she had put so much effort into all this. Wasn’t all her endeavour worth more than this?
“Hey, Fina,” Vyse said suddenly.
The silvite turned to her friend, and then found herself pulled into his nice and tender embrace.
“You didn’t think you could just slip out, did you?” he said with a warm smile.
Fina both smiled and hugged back.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.
“Hey!” Aika chimed, “Don’t ya dare leave me out of this one.”
While still holding Fina, Vyse moved a little to the side to make room for Aika. Fina slipped one of her arms away from Vyse just in time as she felt the touch of Aika’s close hug, which she returned as best as she could.
With or without rings, they were best friends forever. Could it be much better?
A/N: Thanks to user MartinIII for proofreading. And Happy Christmas!