“It's a full moon tonight.”
Jowy didn’t know what force pulled the words out of him, as he and Riou stood in the chilly prison cell in Muse. He knew that he ought to be quiet, so that Nanami and Pilika could get some sleep, but something restless shifted around inside him. It had been there ever since that vision in the Toto shrine, a not-quite-subconscious itch in his head, like a force crackling in him that didn’t quite fit inside his skin.
“A lot has happened since we left Highland, huh?”
Thoughts of his past swirled around inside Jowy’s head, not so much remembering his life as experiencing it for the first time. It was like another person was watching, reading his memories over his shoulder, and Jowy was sure that if he didn’t relieve the pressure by speaking these thoughts aloud, he might go mad. Everything came tumbling out of his mouth that night, words and thoughts he hadn’t even known were in him.
“Back then I was jealous of you,” Jowy heard himself admitting, and he knew it was true. Riou had everything that was important. Riou might have chosen to share it with Jowy, but that peace and happiness had always been something that belonged to other people.
“You talked to me first,” Jowy remembered, and that was another truth. Riou had been the first voice in their friendship, the decision maker, the one who set the pace. And that wasn’t bad, not really, but it was unequal. Riou had protected Jowy – Riou and Nanami and Genkaku and Pilika had all protected him. And what had he done to protect them in return?
The words trickled to a stop at last, and left Riou and Jowy standing together in silence. Riou didn’t answer, just stood there watching Jowy – or Jowy thought Riou was watching. Riou stood with his back to the window, and even though the rest of the room was bright with the full moon shining directly in, shadows obscured Riou’s face. With nothing but pools of darkness where Riou’s eyes should be, Jowy couldn’t even tell what his friend might be thinking – but that was all right, because it was simple for Jowy to know what Riou thought. They were best friends, weren’t they?
Riou didn’t know why Jowy had said all those things. Bleached to brittle white by the too-bright full moon, Jowy’s skin and hair looked like fragile bone china, unfamiliar and unnerving. This strange new Jowy had poured out words between them that Riou had never expected to hear, and Riou hadn’t known what to say in reply.
Riou wished, later on, that he’d said something – anything. But he’d let the moment fade in silence, and Jowy had gone to sleep alone in the cold moonlight. Riou remembered watching him, and how Jowy had looked like a single wrong move would shatter him.
Jowy stood at the roof of L’Renouille castle, looking up into the sky. He could see the half moon hovering among the clouds, incomplete and dwindling. The night air was warm enough, and his royal robes should have kept any chill away, but somehow, Jowy still felt cold.
“Are you worrying, Your Majesty?”
Jowy turned around to see Lucia, the latest addition to his army. “Of course not,” Jowy answered, because as Leon kept reminding him, it was important to maintain morale.
“Quite right,” Lucia said, with an approving nod. “There’s no need for you to be concerned. Traitors and assassins always get what they deserve.”
Jowy watched as Lucia stepped into the moonlight, and it brought out the fierce hatred and pain in her expression. He knew that she looked at the Jowston army and saw only a confederacy of thieves and murderers who would happily stab friends in the back for their own gain.
“You believe that?” Jowy asked, just to keep her talking. He thought it might be nice to talk with a person who saw the world in such simple terms. Speaking with Lucia, Jowy could almost pretend that everything was easy. Maybe he could see the world reflected in black and white, just for a moment.
Lucia threw Jowy an incredulous glance. “Of course I believe it. That’s what will happen. I didn’t expect doubt from you, of all people.”
Jowy blinked. That accusation, sharp and stinging, he hadn’t expected. No one spoke that way to him anymore, not even Seed and Culgan. “What do you mean?”
“After the way your friend betrayed you?” Lucia said, waving her hand to the west. “After he abandoned you and the country you love, to lead an army for your enemies?” She glared at him. “How can you still have questions?”
Jowy glared back at her. “It isn’t that simple,” he said, in a tone that would have silenced any of his other followers.
But Lucia was a warrior and leader in her own right, and Jowy didn’t intimidate her. “It is exactly that simple,” she snapped. “All we have to do is attack them, without holding back. Their treachery will weaken them, and they’ll die alone as every traitor deserves!”
Jowy stared at her like she’d slapped him. “All traitors?” he asked, and even to his own ears his voice sounded weak.
Lucia thinned her mouth to a line, bloody vengeance flashing in her eyes. “Hesitation will not win us this war,” she said. “We have the power to win – if we use it!” She spun and stormed away.
Jowy sighed and looked back up at the moon, and he wondered how things had gone so wrong.
The moonless sky reflected up from the lake in Banner village, as Riou sat on its edge and stared in. He’d traveled all the way to Toran, to ask Tir McDohl to join forces with him for the final assault on Highland. After all, they were permanently down one fighter after the horrible events at Rockaxe Castle.
Maybe Tir had recognized the look in Riou’s eyes, or the way Riou clenched his gloved right hand like it wasn’t a part of him any longer. Tir had brought Riou here, to this secluded spot, and said, “It’s a good place to think.”
Riou wasn’t sure he wanted to think. The silence around them had a terrible pressure to it, and there was no one at his side to fill it with cheerful banter and infectious enthusiasm.
“My sister,” Riou said, and then stopped, because he didn’t really know Tir.
But Tir nodded slowly, like he’d understood anyway. “I thought that might be it. The Runes… they like to take a price.”
Riou didn’t say any of the obvious answers – not “I didn’t want this,” or “Haven’t I already paid enough?” There wasn’t much point. Tir already knew.
“I know this isn’t much help,” Tir said, his voice quiet, “but things could still work out.”
Riou clenched his right hand in the stones on the lake shore. The motions shifted the cloth of his glove over the symbol burned into his hand until the glove rubbed the sensitive skin of the rune raw.
“He sent an assassin after me,” Riou said, which was an answer, even if it didn’t sound like one. “Lucia of the Karaya clan.” His fingers ached from their grip on a stone. “She said the war would be over if I died.” Like Riou and Jowy were the only ones keeping the war alive. Like killing one or the other of them was the only way to end things.
Tir tilted his head back to stare up at the dark sky. “It’s not that simple.”
Riou hurled the stone into the lake, and the spreading ripples distorted all the reflected stars. “That doesn’t help at all.”
Tir shrugged. “I know.”
They sat there in silence a while longer. Riou tried not to wish that it was someone else sitting next to him.
Later, after blood and fire and tears had ended, and an era of peace descended on the two countries, three figures sat together around a campfire, looking up at the full moon hovering calmly over their heads. There was no fighting that could make them hate one another, no war and no runes. And they smiled, because sometimes, solutions really are that simple.