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I.

Shannon's hand stilled just above the dead man's face. Had that been--? He bent, feeling Cz's gaze in his back as he did so. The man was breathing, he decided, faintly so but still breathing. The man was alive, but he wouldn't be for much longer without help.

"He'll just die again." Cz sounded as if it would be a waste of time and resources to help him -- and damn if that didn't beat it in once again that this wasn't the little girl that had clung to his cloak with her huge eyes staring at him.

"He might not, if he wishes to live. Anyone with the strength of will to crawl this far wouldn't give up without a fight." He hefted the body onto his shoulder, then distributed the weight to allow for an easy draw of his sword. There had been a surgery two streets back, which, judging from the injuries of the people inside, treated the occasional victim of the law. He'd leave the man there, then continue.


When Pacifica saw the man, she felt as if her chest had caved in, something surging into her throat to open her mouth and cry out -- but what? Who was this? He was staring at her, expression as unreadable and yet expressive as Shannon-nii's could be.

"You followed us?" Shannon demanded.

Raquel put her hand on his arm. "Fulle?" she quietly asked, aiming the question at the man in front of them. "Why are you here?

"Fulle?" Pacifica echoed, slowly. The name came easily to her lips, as if she'd spoken it thousands of times. Her hand went unbidden to her belt.

"Pacifica," Fulle said, but he said it as if he realized something rather than called her name. Something in his expression -- something -- seemed to die.

Without thinking, she approached him and wound her arms around his middle. When something wet fell onto her skin, she didn't look up. Somehow, she could only hold on.

 

II.

Senes hit the wall of her room with her fist, making it throb with pain. Damn Shannon Casull, damn him and his strength -- Natalie hadn't lied, hadn't overestimated his ability. He was just as strong as they'd said -- might be be stronger, in fact. Something -- the instinct that made her a great swordswoman, most likely -- said that he'd been holding back, that he could've taken her down at any moment. His sister -- what was her name? -- had certainly thought that way.

She turned around and leaned on the wall, staring at the ceiling. What was it that she lacked? What was it that made him so much stronger than she was? He was protecting-- but no, that couldn't have anything to do with it. Not when it was that whiny little brat. That he was using his skill for something like that--

She hit the wall again, then again. If she had a tenth of his skill, she would-- she would--

"Senes?" The timid knock wrenched her out of her thoughts.

"Coming," she said, the door opening at her command. Damn Shannon Casull -- he was not going to stand in her way.


"Shannon Casull!"

If he'd had the energy for it, Shannon would've closed his eyes in exasperation. As it was, he simply turned and waited. Senes stomped into his sight, her face so determined that he wanted to needle her like he needled Pacifica everytime she made a face like that.

"What."

Her hand slammed into the wall not an inch from his face -- her aim was getting better. "You're leaving," she said, loudly enough that it would've been a shout if only a decibel louder.

"Yes."

The other hand slammed into the wall on the other side of his face. "You're leaving," she repeated -- and this time it was a shout.

"Yes."

Senes' face went through a series of expressions at that, ranging from anger and frustration to something that he really wouldn't have expected from her but perhaps ought to have.

"You're leaving," she repeated, then she shook her head and Shannon stilled when he realized that her eyes were actually blank with tears. "Shannon Casull," she said, this time without any emotion at all. "You're just not worth it." Then she stomped off.

Shannon looked after her. Zefiris appeared by his side, hovering expressionlessly. "You should have told her," she noted. "She has always had conflicted emotions regarding you."

"It wouldn't have been fair," he replied. He rubbed at his chest, looking after her with the uncomfortable feeling he might just have lost something, then turned. "We should go."

 

III.

“Time’s up.”

The voice pierced the dream, a knife hole in the blue skies above him. He wiped his forehead and squinted towards the heavens. He still needed to add the last layers of mortar and there was a stack of rough stones waiting to be placed.

“Shannon Casull. Your time is up.”

He sat up, covers falling to his hips. It was cold. He opened his eyes. Zefiris hovered in front of him and he could see his sister slumbering in her bed. He could even hear Pacifica in the other room, snoring next to Fulle.

"What do you mean?" he asked Zefiris as he climbed out of his bed -- regardless of her answer, this couldn't be something good.

"They've come," she simply replied, and then, when he looked at her, pointed upwards.


He was woefully unsuited to this, Shannon thought, staring the foreign beings in what should have been their faces. Zefiris was with him, and beneath him was Natalie and Senes and Raquel and Pacifica, but still he was woefully unsuited for this.

"I chose you," Zefiris said -- more of a reminder than reassurance, even though it worked as both.

"Are you sure you didn't choose wrong person?" He didn't mean it, of course, but he almost wished he did.

Zefiris didn't deign to answer that and they edged closer. Then the air itself seemed to crackle and a foreign voice spoke.

"You have returned."