Chapter 1: the sky is distant
Some nights are better than others. Some nights he doesn’t wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, mouth dry and stomach churning, heart racing until he’s picked out every single one of his three companions sleeping in the quiet air. He doesn’t mistake shadows for blood and the pale moonlight for the pallor of death.
Some nights he doesn’t slip out of bed and stumble out of the room he shares with the three other Warriors of Light, right underneath the bridge aboard the giant airship they’ve taken to calling home in this world and the past. Doesn’t drag himself to the edge of the deck for a breath of fresh air, arms tight around himself in a futile attempt to subdue the shivering that overtakes him from the chill inside and out. Doesn’t succumb to the pain in his head and chest and upend the contents of his stomach over the side of the worn railing, tears trailing down his face and mixing with the bile, just missing the loose black undershirt he wears that is very little protection against the elements.
Tonight is not one of those nights.
Ringabel kneels beside the railing, gripping it until he can feel the splinters penetrate his skin. Good. The pain brings him something to focus on, to distract from the afterimages of death that still linger behind his eyes. He can almost taste the blood in the air, pooling across the old wood of the deck he stands on now - and he inhales sharply, letting his eyes slip shut.
Some nights he is unable to sleep at all for the nightmares - memories - that plague him.
Sighing deeply, the taste of sick still heavy in his mouth and the back of his throat, he pulls himself up and leans over the railing, rubbing his face with tender, sore fingers. Tonight, they’ve anchored near Florem. Though they’ve cleaned up the Blood Rose Legion in the area, there is no need to be afraid of any attacks even if they hadn’t. Grandship is a fortress, solid and impenetrable.
After all, the only one who has ever breached its railing is Alternis Dim.
The thought of that man, his old self, makes him sick. With each passing day and night, more of his memories return, and it makes it harder and harder to reconcile the Ringabel-that-is with the Alternis-that-was. Where one died and the other was born only to die again in exchange for the original. His eyes slide over the patch of wood that marked where Alternis - any Alternis - had fallen over the edge and into oblivion, fingers trailing over scored marks the man’s armor had left in the wood, as though to memorialize his greatest failures.
Without thinking, telling himself he simply wants to get a better look, Ringabel climbs easily over the railing at that very spot, eyes fixed on the darkness below, his hand keeping a tight grip to prevent an accident. At this h,eight the skies are nothing but a black void, nothing like the bright light and churning waves that would have been at the base of the Holy Pillar. If he concentrates he can make out the ground below, the fields of flowers they’ve left their anchor.
His head feels light. His hand is cramping and burning, the splinters digging in deeper as his grip tightens. If the old railing were to give away under his weight…
His breath, his pulse, all sounds so very loud in his ears as a shock runs through his body. The splinters painfully pierce the skin under his fingernails as his fingers curl, and as though on instinct…
Ringabel lets go.
For a moment there’s panic, absolute panic, before peace and acceptance take hold. Then he’s weightless and the sound of wind rushing around him drowns out the sound of his breath and his pulse- but not the scream that rips right through him.
He can’t turn mid-air to see her, but he would recognize it anywhere. Edea. Lovely, beautiful Edea has seen him, and now he’s flooded with regret. It fills his senses, overwhelms him, and he feels tears prick his eyes. He can’t do this, he can’t. He can’t do this to her, to them, and to himself. What has he done?
There’s not much longer, but his last thought is that he has to–
Edea screams again.
When she had first seen him over the edge, she’d felt worry. But he’d done it before, just the once, and had come back over when he’d said his name. She had never mentioned it to the others, that he’d been on the wrong side of the railing, but it had haunted her for several days. Now her heart is pounding once more in her chest, and she opens her mouth to call out to him when he. He lets go, and she watches in horror mid-word as he disappears from sight.
For a moment her brain turns off completely, unable to comprehend what she’s just seen. But that moment is short and then she screams.
She has to stop to draw breath, sobs ripping out of her chest as she lunges forward, screaming out his name again. She trips over her own feet and lands hard on the wooden deck, nails splintering as she claws herself back to her feet to go to him. But by the time she manages to throw herself against the railing to look for him, he’s out of sight. It’s so dark, and it’s so far down.
No, no, no. This can’t be happening.
Edea screams again and again, and her nails claw at the railing, splinters drawing blood as she tries to scramble over the edge. It’s too late to see him, to save him, but perhaps if she can go on after him, she’ll be able to –
“Edea, no!” Tiz’s voice cuts through the grief in her chest as she feels the shepherd’s strong arms around her waist, dragging her back down onto the deck. She fights him for just a few moments before it’s too much and she collapses against him, her screams dying down to miserable sobbing. She hasn’t cried this much in years, if ever, and she aches.
“Edea, please stop!” Agnès cries as she kneels beside them both, her eyes wide and confused. She’d been woken by the sound of the screaming and the sight of Tiz rushing out of the inn and still doesn't know what is happening. She only knows that something is dreadfully wrong, and that Edea is… hurt? She had come around the corner just in time to see Tiz drag Edea away from the worn railing of their ship, and doesn’t want to assume the worst, but..
Tiz tries to shush Edea, but his heart is sinking as he listens to her sobs. He's known Edea for months, years, and knows Edea wouldn’t haven't screamed if something dire hadn’t happened, and though he doesn’t know what has transpired on the deck, judging by the distraught woman in his arms and Ringabel’s complete absence, he - he guesses. He doesn’t want to think on it, but there are no other options, and his heart aches as his mind attempts to wrap around the possibilities. Ringabel wouldn’t, would he?
Edea is sobbing so hard that she begins to retch, and Tiz hastily moves her so that he can rub at her back and panic truly begins to take hold in him. His breath comes in little gasps as he tries to center himself for both of the women. The only ones he has left.
“Edea?” Agnès tries again, wondering if she should cast white magic. “Edea, what is it?”
“Ringabel,” Edea sobs out, trying to wipe her face with the edge of her nightgown with shaking hands. “He… he…” All she could do was point at the railing.
It sinks in, then. What’s happened. Where’s he gone.
Agnès claps her hands over her mouth in horror as she stares at the railing, and tears begin to form in her eyes. Oh, Ringabel… no! She rises to her feet to stumble toward the railing, when she’s stopped in her tracks by a hand on her shoulder.
“What’s going on here?” Datz’s voice is thick, confused with sleep, but his eyes are wide with worry. He’d heard the screaming from the tavern and had thought they were being invaded or worse. He is a big man, but can move fast when needed. This is one of those times, and he knows Zatz won't be far behind.
Agnès can’t speak through the crying that’s started, and Edea is still quietly crying, so it’s Tiz who speaks, his voice carefully measured through his grief. “Ringabel went over the edge.”
The words hang in the air, heavy and horrible.
Datz lets out a shaky breath. “Are you –”
“Yes!” Edea all but screams. “He just– he went over. I - ” She’d seen it, clear as day, even in the dim light of the lanterns that lined the deck of Grandship. “Please, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say that if…” She couldn’t speak anymore, clutching her chest and doubling over in pain.
Zatz joins them then, just as sleepy but worried, and together the two Shieldbearers try to tend to the despondent warriors - children, all of them. The soldiers had seen plenty of horrors while serving in the army, but few were as difficult to deal with as the death of a comrade - at his own hands, no less. Datz picks up Edea and Agnès both in his arms, and Zatz brings up the rear with Tiz, his hand firm on the teen’s back as Tiz succumbs to his own shaking and crying.
Edea finally stops sobbing somewhere near dawn, though she doesn’t stop crying, tears silently rolling down her cheeks. Tiz doesn’t know what’s worse, seeing her react so violently or not seeing her react much at all, staring into space while she cries brokenly. She stays curled up in the Proprietress’ soft bed with Agnès, the two of them bundled up in quilts and blankets while the older woman promises the remaining men that she’ll take care of them.
“Not even my food can heal a broken spirit,” the woman says, her voice tired and eyes red. “But it’ll keep their bodies warm until their hearts are ready.”
Tiz chokes down a cup of black, bitter coffee, thinking with an ache in his chest that this was Ringabel’s preferred brew. But he needed to be awake now, and needed to do something in Ringabel's memory too.
“You don’t have to come with us,” Datz rumbles, crossing his arms. "I know you want to, but I think you should stay with the girls."
“It’s probably better that you don’t,” Zatz agrees, shaking his head. “We’ll take care of things from here.”
They were going to try and find the body. Agnès had begged them not to leave him to the wildlife.
“I have to do this.” Tiz shakes his head firmly. His mind is made up. Ringabel had tried to play the part of an older brother to him - to them all - and while he could be a little strange and most certainly inappropriate at times, his tendency to look after them had been appreciated. Now that he was gone, the role of brother of the group would fall on Tiz - Ringabel would joke he was more like their mother - but he owed it to someone he could consider his best friend to at least find his body and bring him home. Lay him to rest somewhere peaceful, perhaps in Eternia? "Ringabel would do the same.“
Of this, he is certain. Though he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to see the remains of Ringabel’s body, he has to try.
They set off as soon as it is light enough, a grim gathering. There’s not a wide area to search, considering they had been anchored for the night, though Zatz thinks aloud that the distance and the wind wouldn’t have made it a solid straight drop.
Tiz wanders behind the two soldiers aimlessly, his thoughts whirling. How could he have not seen the signs of Ringabel being so far gone with grief and pain that he’d consider doing this? What had he missed? This was his fault. He should have noticed, or said something. It should have been his turn to go after Ringabel last night, but Edea had already been awake and she’d gone instead. He would do anything to repeat last night, to go after Ringabel immediately. Edea didn’t need to see that… Ringabel didn’t need to *do* that.
"Hey, Tiz.” Datz says over his shoulder, his voice low. “There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this. Trust me."
Tiz’s head snaps up, his cheeks flushing. Had he been thinking aloud? But the two men are giving him weak smiles.
“It’s on your face. And it's… something we all think. We've all had soldiers, friends, who just can't take it anymore and need a way out,” Datz explains further. “But if any of us could have done something, we would have.”
Zatz nodded. “Yeah. You guys wouldn’t have just let him… do that. Whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t your fault. A lot of the times, it's no one's fault.”
A lump forms in Tiz’s throat, and he feels his eyes burn. He tries to swallow back the tears, but it’s too much. The events of the night catch up with him and he struggles to breathe, pressing his hands to his chest.
Datz immediately turns back to him. “Zatz, take him back to the ship. I’ll look for Ringabel until you come back.”
Tiz jerks his arm out of Zatz’s grip and stumbles away. “N-no, I’m fine! Really!” He side-steps the two men and moves forward quickly, before Datz gets the idea to pick him up, and he makes it all of five paces before he stops short, eyes widening at the … thing he’s just found in a patch of grass.
The form is broken, so broken, shattered and twisted and even though most of the blond hair is stained brown with dried blood, and the black clothes are torn, there’s enough of Ringabel left to identify him, and the coffee that Tiz had choked down threatens to come right back up.
It doesn’t help when Datz grabs him by the back of his collar and yanks him away from it.
“Get him out of here,” Datz orders to Zatz, but Tiz struggles.
“Wait, wait!” He’s already seen it - seen him, he can handle this! He’s not just going to leave Ringabel now. He has to bring him back home to Edea and Agnès, to Eternia. He has to see this through, no matter how his stomach churns and his chest aches.
“There’s nothing you can do, Tiz.” Zatz’s voice is a little strained as he tries to wrestle with the taller, bulkier teenager, but he’s got more experience. Tiz begins to lose the fight.
“I – I can’t save him.” Tiz can accept that at least, his voice tightening. Datz has turned away from them to kneel by the body. “But I promised the girls I’d bring him home. Let me stay here, I’ll stay out of the way and –”
“He’s alive,” Datz says, his voice incredulous.
That stops Tiz and Zatz cold, and once he feels Zatz’s hold on him loosen, the younger boy darts forward to kneel beside Ringabel’s broken form. The relief is so great that he can even ignore the horrific injuries as he scans his friend’s body for the same sign of life that Datz had seen and finds it, the tightness in his chest blossoming into warmth.
Ringabel’s chest is bruised and somewhat bloody, but there’s an uneven, pained rise and fall. Blood bubbles at his mouth with his breath. Somehow, despite all odds, he’s breathing. He’s alive.
A laugh forces out from Tiz’s throat, and he very nearly throws himself over Ringabel’s body in relief, stopping only at the last moment when he remembers that the other man is terribly injured. He’s alive, but for how long? Tiz rummages around in his pack for a potion.
“Will this help?” he asks.
“I don’t know how we’re going to save him,” Datz replies, his face grim. “But we’ll do it.”
Zatz, far faster than either of them, runs back to Grandship to fetch Agnès. Her healing magic is the best among them, and she’s needed desperately, as much as they don’t want to expose her to the body - to Ringabel’s injuries. If they want to save him, they must.
Potions are more effective when taken internally, but Ringabel doesn’t stir when Tiz carefully slides his hands under the man’s head. For as much blood as there is in his hair, his head thankfully seems relatively uninjured; it’s his legs that took the brunt of the impact, and Tiz doesn’t know how far healing magic can go in fixing that*. But they drip one potion into his open, slack mouth, and while most of it drips out from between his lips, the unconscious man instinctively swallows part of it.
Another is dripped over the worst of his open wounds to help knit them back together over his bones. Not too much, else they’ll heal wrongly and he could spend the rest of his life crippled, but enough to ease his breathing. Stabilize him until Zatz and Agnès return.
Unable to help himself, Tiz wets a handkerchief in some water from his flask and uses it to clean up Ringabel’s bloody face, knowing just how much the other man prides himself on his appearance. He's… pained, obviously, his brows knitted even in his forced sleep, and there’s still that blood that’s bubbled up from his mouth - some internal damage would not be unlikely, given the circumstances, but he’s alive, and that’s all that matters.
Tiz’s tears help to wash some of the blood off as well.
When Zatz returns to Agnès, the Vestal stops and gasps at the horrific sight in front of her.
“How could he – how is he alive?” She says, even as she kneels in front of him, her need to heal her friend overtaking the urge to be sick. The glow of white magic emanates from her hands before she even settles.
“Be careful. We need to set his broken bones before we heal those, but if you can get him stabilized, we can get him back on the ship.” Datz informs her in a quiet voice. From there, they could let him rest in the inn and heal him or even take him elsewhere for treatment. He could use it, both physical and mental. Datz has seen this too many times before.
Agnès nods to show that she has heard him, before focusing back on Ringabel’s chest. The way that it caved in slightly worried her, as did the drying trail of blood from his mouth and nose.
“Edea?” Tiz asks Zatz, unable to take his eyes off the healing process. Ringabel's color already looks much improved.
“Asleep. Proprietress knocked her out with some sleepy tea. Said Edea started sobbing again,” Zatz informs him as he kneels beside the other man.
Tiz nods. It was for the best. Ringabel was still in a precarious state, and if he were to slip away from them - which he wouldn’t, because they would save him - it would just hurt Edea more if she knew he’d survived the initial fall.
As Agnès continues to work, they watch, and the sun moves slowly overhead. Progress is agonizingly slow as the men carefully set Ringabel’s bones every time Agnès moves to a new area to heal. His chest and torso are the most dire area; Tiz thinks the older man probably broke a few ribs when he’d fallen, and once Agnès has healed them, his breathing evens out. His head wound is next; the last thing that Ringabel needs is another bout of amnesia from a blow to the head.
His legs were the biggest remaining injuries, but those could wait until later, Datz finally decides when the sun is overhead.
“The Lady Vestal needs to rest, and we need to get him indoors. He’ll get a sunburn at this rate.” His statement is punctuated with a grim laugh, but they manage to move Ringabel onto a makeshift stretcher. He groans in his sleep, a beautiful sound.
Datz carries a drained Agnès back to the ship while Zatz and Tiz handle the unconscious man on the stretcher they support from either side. Just as earlier, they go slowly so as to not injure him further, and once both Vestal and vagrant are placed into a lifeboat they’d rigged many months earlier to haul unconscious party members into Grandship, they hoist it up and over the railing.
Agnès curls slightly over Ringabel, mindful of his dreadful wounds, as the lifeboat is lifted. He’s breathing better, more evenly, than he’d been when she’d first seen him. Truthfully, his battered form is enough to make her feel ill, but what’s more important is that he’s alive. Silent tears drip down her face and smear into the dried blood on his arms as she reaches up to gently push his hair away from his face. She knows the man would want to look his best for when Edea sees him.
“Crystals,” she prays quietly, so that only the two of them can hear. “Please save him. Please save this precious companion of mine.” He might be alive, but they still don’t know if he will ever wake, ever walk.
When the lifeboat is settled on the deck and Tiz reaches in to extract her, she’s still curled over Ringabel, weeping.
“You’ve done well,” Tiz tells her as he settles her into his arms. She leans her head against his shoulders, looks at him with red-rimmed eyes. “Thank you so much, Agnès. I think we can save him.” She sniffles, with a nose as red as Edea’s ribbon and tries to give him a smile, but it’s weak. Tired.
He’ll let her get some rest with Edea, he decides, as Datz carefully transports Ringabel to the inn. With their pilot out of commision, their options are very limited. While both of the Shieldbearers know how to steer Grandship across open water and flat fields, Ringabel is the only one with skill enough to really navigate the behemoth airship across mountainous continents. It’s as though they’re stranded until he can get to the wheel. Stranded, and unable to seek help.
But there’s nothing they can do about it. The haze of grief in his heart has dissipated slightly at the discovery that Ringabel yet lives, and it threatens to come back again as panic. Tiz shoves it to the side as he hands Agnès over to the Proprietress, politely waves away a small, light lunch, and jogs back to the inn. They have Salve-Maker, and Spiritmaster… he runs over each of the Jobs in his head to determine which ones would save his friend.
They will save him.
Chapter 2: don't mourn for me
He aches and hurts and every single part of his body is alive and screaming in pain, it seems. He can feel the pain in excruciating detail - in his fingers, his back, his ribs, even his hair. He has felt agony like this only once before, when he had fallen into the magma at Mt. Karka and the torture at the hands of that fat pig that had followed. It’s a pain that tells him that he should have died, and a pain that makes him wish he / were / dead. Not even the cool cloth on his face can save him from the heat of the pain.
It hurts to breathe, even to think, to listen to the quiet buzzing around him and he forces out a quiet, tortured sob from his parched throat to make it stop. A feeling like a razor blade slides down from his eye to his cheek.
To his relief, the buzzing stops.
With that pain gone, he whimpers and it hurts as a tear falls down his face to wet his ear and hair.
A warm, wonderful, healing glow overtakes his sense and he sighs quietly as the pain begins to fade. It fades enough that he slips back into sleep, and as darkness overtakes him again, he wonders what on earth has happened.
He can’t even remember anymore.
Edea had woken up feeling empty and dead inside. Over and over she now mentally replays the image of Ringabel disappearing out of her sight over Grandship’s railing. Is this how the man had felt when her counterpart in his world had perished? Watching a loved one die right in front of his eyes, unable to do anything. Her fault. There’s a giant hole in her chest, too big to be filled. A Ringabel shaped hole. She couldn’t stand him most of the time, but he was her friend. He’d been there for her when she needed him, and now he won't be there again. Never in her life had she thought he’d just… he’d just.
Her lip trembles and she turns her face into the pillow again, mentally apologizing to the Proprietress for getting her pillow wet. She’s faced the death of her friends and her family, multiple times over multiple worlds. She’s held both Master Kamiizumi and Einheria as they passed. She’s prepared herself for it as inevitable; all of them had ideals so important they would give their lives. But seeing Ringabel just… vanish into the void like that is shocking. Realizing that he must have chosen that path, suffering silently despite laughing their side, and dwelling on his long fall, wondering if he had heard her scream for him - she isn't prepared for this.
How can she be? People aren't supposed to just disappear like that. She can understand if he died for his ideals, died for a purpose. But his death at his own hands is senseless. Meaningless. She just can't understand why? Why? Why had he been laughing and joking with them just the night before, if he had been so gone? Why hadn't she been faster to follow him? Why hadn't she yelled out his name to bring him back over the railing? Why had he left her?
Her sobs start anew as she thinks about Alternis going over. Twice. Three times. Ringabel had fallen from Grandship once before, with no one to cry out for him. Ringabel was… was…
Gentle hands push her hair away from her splotchy face and she looks up to see Agnès resting beside her. Tired, worn, but awake.
“Don’t cry, Edea,” Agnès tries to tell her, but there are tears in the vestal’s eyes as well. Edea rubs at her face, feeling foolish for weeping, and inches closer to her friend. There’s just the three of them now. Ringabel would be upset to know he’d made her cry, even if it was his fault, the idiot.
“I’m not crying,” she lies. “I just want to know… why didn’t he tell us?”
“Ah, Edea…” Agnès tries to continue, but is interrupted as Edea continues on, anger rising in her to drown out the grief.
“He always looked out for us! Was always meddling whenever he thought we looked tired or sad! Telling me how angels shouldn’t cry, or that his shoulder was always there, or his bed was always open. He was being an idiot. He was lying to us the whole time.” Her chest begins to heave again, aching, and she fists her hands in her nightgown, thinking in the back of her mind that she needs to change; she's been asleep for hours. Had they found him by now and brought him onboard? If so, she’d like to take him back to Eternia. Father would want to know.
“He lied to us. He lied to /me/. I thought I could be ready for the deaths of my friends. Even my own. But I thought we’d die in battle, fighting for what we believed in. Not this, Agnès. He just jumped. Just… /jumped/. How could he do that to us?!” She’s being irrational, she knows. But the grief in her chest is making way to anger. He’d been all smiles, even weak ones, when his friends were upset or having problems, but the darkness had been eating him away inside. It just wasn’t /fair/. He would protect them, but hadn’t allowed them to protect him in turn.
“Edea,” Agnès says a little more firmly to pierce through the blonde’s ranting, rolling over onto her forearms and touching the other woman’s shoulder. “He… he’s alive.”
The vestal’s words are heard but they take a few moments to register through Edea’s cloudy thoughts. When she understands exactly what Agnès has just said, Edea stares at her with wide, confused eyes. “He’s what?”
“He’s alive. Severely injured, but alive… I believe they took him to the inn.” Tiz had tucked Agnès back into bed with Edea and thanked her profusely before running off again, but she knows they only have one place to take the horrifically injured Ringabel.
Edea can hardly believe what she’s hearing. Ringabel was alive? After the distance he must have fallen, he was alive? After scaring them, after jumping from Grandship like he was some dumb Dark Knight, he was alive?
“I’m going to kill him,” she says as she throws the heavy covers off of her and sits up. Enough of this moping around!
“… I beg your pardon?” Agnès sits up in bed as well.
“We’re going to heal him up until he’s good as new, and then I’m going to kill him.” Or at least pummel him to a pulp for worrying them all like that. Edea growls slightly under her breath. Of course, the threat is an empty one, but he won’t know that.
And her chest hurts again, though she’s thankful that somehow, miraculously, he’d survived the fall. Maybe now she can get some answers out of him, why he’d do something so stupid.
“I really don’t think…” Agnès’ protest is cut off when the door, already slightly ajar, opens.
“Ahaha!” The Proprietress, likely drawn by the commotion, has come to check on them. “Feeling a little better, Edea? Heard the news?”
“Yes!” Edea beams at the older woman, and her stomach growls, having come to associate her with food. “We’re going to go beat him up. You can come join us, if you’d like.”
The woman laughs again and stands aside so that Edea can leave her bedroom, a small room that’s tucked above the storage area in the tavern. There’s several others, that she’s used for rowdy and well-liked patrons and for when Datz, Zatz, and Ringabel need to crash after a night of drinking games. “Then you’ll need your strength. I’ve got lunch waiting for you. And you as well, Lady Vestal.” She nods to Agnès, who is scrambling to get out bed.
“Thanks!” Though to be honest, the idea of food still makes her a little sick, which is just another reason to be mad at Ringabel. He’s ruined her appetite!
But she can scarf down at least a little bit of the light lunch the Proprietress has set out for them, crackers and berries and warm soup.
“You’re not going to really hurt him, are you?” Agnès asks her while they quickly eat.
“Of course not,” Edea reassures her. “Not badly.”
Edea sighs. She shouldn’t joke around with Agnès , not like this. “I’m not going to hurt him. I mean, I’m mad. Really mad, and I feel like I could. But I’m not about to go beat up an injured man. Give me some credit, will you?” Even if the man was Ringabel, and he’d gotten himself into this situation, she had some scruples. She’d wait until he was fully healed from this. Healed and truly better, inside and out.
They drink several glasses of juice to rehydrate themselves before the Proprietress lets them leave with a pile of food on a tray for the men.
“I have healed him some already,” Agnès says quietly as they make their way up toward the inn. “However, he’s still horribly injured. I don’t know how on earth he even survived the fall.”
Edea feels her stomach turn over, threatening to lose its lunch at the mental image of how broken he must be. Maybe she shouldn’t have eaten? “He’s got the devil’s luck, that one. Don’t they say that only the good die young?”
“Sorry,” Edea apologises, feeling a little chastised. She’s just had a shock, she’s allowed to joke about it. It’s better than continuing to torment herself over the why. She’s very thankful that he’s alive, because she hadn’t been ready to accept one of her closest friends had killed himself. Maybe now her mind can stop replaying the scenario in her head, blaming herself for all the things she had done wrong. "Sorry,“ she repeats, and a lump forms in her throat.
She is never going to forgive him, especially if he somehow manages to die after all of this. He has to survive - she even wants him to outlive her at this point, even if he might hate it, just so that she never has to deal with this again.
The inn is quiet as usual, long abandoned. They’ve cleared out a section for their own use, but there are still plenty of rooms that are full of cobwebs and dust. Edea checks the room they usually sleep in, but they're all empty.
"We’re in here.” She turns around to see Zatz poking his head out of a room just a few doors down. “They’re both asleep.” They?
When she enters the room, she sees that Tiz is still wearing the Salve-Maker costume, even though it’s mostly covered by the blankets he’s tucked into. Datz is sitting on the edge of that bed, a folding table with a deck of cards in front of him.
The other bed in the room is taken up by Ringabel. Edea feels that lump in her throat rise at the sight of him.
Oh, he’s battered. Broken. His face and shoulders and arms are bruised, and there are bloody bandages around his forearms. Judging by the pile of rags by the door, they’d had to cut his clothing off of him, and he looks so pale and vulnerable. There’s something wrong with his legs, she thinks as she sets the tray down and carefully approaches him. The blankets on his lower half are thick, almost abnormally so, to cover him and keep his injuries from being so obvious.
Edea’s eyes are burning as she smooths some of the covers over his side. The other men have cleaned him up somewhat but there’s still all that blood on his arms, down his chest… he looks terrible, half-dead and torn up, and this is after being healed? She can only imagine what he’d looked like when they first found him, and forces herself to focus on the even movement of his pasty chest as he breathes. So focused in fact, that she doesn’t hear Agnès speaking to Datz.
“Fell asleep just a little while ago. Tried to make a few medicines that might help Ringabel heal a little faster, or fix his legs, but it’s slow going. He’s okay, just tired. Don’t think he slept well last night.”
“Ringabel's legs are still…”
“Probably shattered. He’ll be lucky if he walks again.” Datz sighs. In the army, he’d seen plenty of men who’d lost use of limbs. It was always a terrible thing to behold. Granted, they were lucky that Ringabel was even alive, but if they didn’t fix his legs, the other man might want to be dead anyway.
“He’ll be fine,” Edea says softly, nudging the back of his hand with one of her fingers. “He’s gone through worse, you know. Fell into lava, tortured, nursed back to health. Then he lost his memory after falling through the Holy Pillar.” After realizing that Ringabel was Alternis, and that the journal was literally /his/ journal, she’d gone back through the pages. In hindsight, the number of things he’d been subjected to were horrifying. Too much for one man in one lifetime.
“Yeah,” Datz agrees. “Ringabel’s a strong guy. He’ll pull through.”
Zatz has gone into another room to bring chairs for Edea and Agnès , and sets them down now before sitting at the other end of the card table.
But before sitting, Edea crosses over to the basin of water near the door so that she can wet a cloth. Ringabel’s a mess. She knows he’ll be mortified to learn that she or Agnès had seen him in such a state, but she can try to clean him, just a little.
“Thank you for staying here with us,” Agnès says as she sits in the chair, angling it so that she can lean against the bed Tiz is sleeping on.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Ringabel’s a good friend. And you kids have enough on your mind. Let us take care of this as much as we can.” Datz smiles at her.
Zatz grins at her too. “Yeah, we’ve got this! We’re good for more than just our brawn, you know. With the two of us involved, Ringabel will be back on his feet and annoying us all before you know it.”
Agnès giggles. Edea smiles as well as she wipes Ringabel’s face gently with a wet cloth. The bruises aren’t so easily cleaned off, but at least the blood can be washed away - it’s a start. She listens vaguely as the others continue to make small talk behind her back, Agnes asking them if they have any experience in this sort of thing.
“This is where you’ve been, Agnès!” Airy’s light announces her arrival just moments before her voice does.
Tiz stirs in the bed and opens his eyes, rubbing at his face.
“Ah, Airy…” Agnès feels a pang of guilt. In the commotion from last night, and in the exhausting hours that had followed, she hadn’t thought to find Airy. The fairy usually slept separate from them, her flickering light a distraction at best.
The fairy circles around the room, hovering in front of each of them in turn to examine their worn, tired faces. Finally, she hovers above Ringabel, before settling on his pillow. “What happened? What did I miss last night?!”
“There was… an accident.” Edea explains. A part of her doesn’t know if she wants to tell Airy exactly what happened. Airy doesn’t need to know, does she? She already dislikes Ringabel as it is, and knowing that he'd jumped from the Grandship might set the fairy off.
“I didn’t hear anything at all,” Airy shakes her head. “And no one thought to come get me? What if Agnès had been injured?”
Tiz speaks up before Edea does. “Agnès was fine. We would have gotten you if there was any worry.” He too, doesn't feel right telling Airy exactly what happened.
“Is he going to be okay?” Airy asks, flitting off the pillow to land on Agnès’ lap. “This isn’t going to take too long, is it? We still have Crystals we need to awaken.”
Edea’s hand twitches as she imagines reaching for a flyswatter. “The Crystals can wait. We can’t even /go/ anywhere with him like this. He needs time to heal.”
“The Crystals /can’t/ wait. The world could be swallowed in darkness. I’m worried about Ringabel too, but we can’t wait forever for him to get better. Don’t you care what happens?”
Datz and Zatz stay wisely quiet, eyes flicking between the group, though when Edea stands and advances on the fairy, the taller man tenses.
“Of course we care!” Edea insists, her hands balling into fists. “We want to finish awakening the Crystals just as much as you or Agnès.” Even if their efforts had not yet borne fruit and they kept being sent to new worlds, she held out hope that the next Holy Pillar would be the last. “But Ringabel’s the only one with the experience to fly us around Luxendarc, and I’m not fighting without him.”
Hardly one to be intimidated, the fairy flies up so that she’s eye level with Edea, her own tiny fists straight at her side. “He’ll be fine! And we can pilot Grandship without him.”
“What, no we can’t! Can we?” Edea glances over at Datz, who shrugs.
“He’s been teaching us the navigation, but there’s a difference going over open water and trying to cross Eternia’s peaks.” If it were just himself and Zatz, he’d have no problem attempting it. But with the Lady Vestal and her crew on board, as well as the Proprietress, he’s a little warier. It’s not unlike piloting a seafaring vessel, just a hell of a lot bigger and with an extra dimension. He also doesn’t know if he wants to get into the middle of this argument.
“See?” Edea glares at Airy.
“We can definitely pilot Grandship without him,” Airy insists. “And we can fight without him, too. We just need to train up a little and –”
“Airy,” Tiz interrupts, tugging a little at his hair. He feels nervous suddenly, but he has to speak before Edea tries to punch Airy or something. That’s a bad idea. “How could you possibly know this? No one else has piloted Grandship, have they? And we’ve never fought without Ringabel, have we?”
“Yes, Airy.” Agnès pipes in. “He’s always been there.” Agnès cannot remember a time when he wasn’t, even if he had been knocked out in battle for a few moments, or feeling sick.
“Well…” Airy hesitates. “I still think we need to focus on the Crystals.”
“We’re not leaving him,” Edea says, crossing her arms. “We’ll try and get around if we need to, but Ringabel’s our pilot. If you don’t want this to take too long, try and help!”
She’s so small that it’s hard to read the expression on her face, but Airy flutters around Edea’s form for a moment before she lands on her shoulder. “It’s fine as long as it doesn’t take /too/ much time…”
But no one bothers to ask her what would happen if it did.
At that moment, Ringabel lets out a quiet, pained sound, and all eyes fall onto his form as he shifts uncomfortably in his sleep. The sound is music to her ears, but Edea quiets all the same. Had they woken him? She reaches out to smooth his hair back out of his face, but stops when she sees him begin to cry, a tear falling from his eye toward the bed.
“I’ll cast Cura,” Agnès whispers, and stands beside the other woman to work her magic, the healing glow only serving to highlight the harshness of his wounds.
Edea stands and waits, watching as he seems to relax and drift off again. Only then does she take his hand in hers.
Chapter 3: the tears i've hidden
He's dying. They've saved him, but he's dying.
Two days after the Incident and Tiz doesn’t know what to do anymore.
He’s barely slept, eaten only when the Proprietress sat him down in a chair and watched him until his plate was empty (even when she kept spooning vegetables on it!) and hasn’t even had a chance to bathe, much to Edea’s annoyance. He’s just too busy. Too worried.
Ringabel is not getting any better.
Sometime during the first night after they found him, the blond man had come down with a raging fever and it now threatens to cook him alive. They have tried everything, but they cannot get it to break, and Tiz and Agnes rotate shifts of keeping his fever from reaching a level that will cause irreparable damage. Agnes has repeatedly tried magic to lower his fever which works, but they know it cannot be used as a long-term solution; it drains it too quickly and wears off even quicker.
Edea had broken three glasses before Tiz very gently asked her not to try to help anymore. She is still too angry, still too shocked, still too hurt to control herself, and while she is good at running errands for them, her patience does not extend to the sleeping man. Tiz knows she’d never hurt him, especially after his fall, but he wonders if she wouldn’t beat him with a pillow every time he cries out in pain in his sleep before they’re able to calm him.
Tiz has cooked up concoction after concoction using his combined knowledge of Salve Maker and Spiritmaster, but nothing seems to work in the face of Ringabel’s injuries and fever. Now, all he can do is sit there, staring over at Ringabel, watching the other man toss slightly in his sleep while Agnes delivers another dose of healing magic. When the Vestal finishes and Ringabel settles with a sigh, she attempts to walk back to her chair only to stumble.
Wordlessly, Tiz pulls her against him instead, and she leans for a moment. He’s a bit worried about how much more any of them can take.
But they are not alone. Datz and Zatz have moved them away from the Flor Region - no one wants to be there any longer - and they’ve instead sailed over Harena. The men, as well as the Proprietress, are taking turns being with them, so that none of them are ever alone with the broken blond, and while Datz had been trying to teach Tiz a new card game, he sets the deck aside now.
“Everything alright, Lady Vestal?” The older man asks. “You’ve been doing too much lately.” He takes her arm and carefully guides her until she’s seated on the bed between Tiz and himself.
Agnes rubs at her eyes. “It’s alright. I will be fine. We will be fine,” she repeats, more to herself than to the men. But she can’t stop her limbs from shaking, no matter how tightly she clutches herself.
Datz, bigger and stronger than Tiz by far, easily picks her up in his arms. “Why don’t you get some more rest? I think I heard Edea stomping around the other room.” The noise is hard to miss.
It is telling that Agnes is too tired to protest beyond a cursory struggle before she settles into the man’s arms, and Tiz keeps a soft smile on his face as she is carried out of the room, a smile that drops as he glances back over at the sleeping man on the other bed.
“He’s dying, isn’t he?” His heart nearly leaps out of his chest and he snaps his head toward the door, where Edea is standing, Datz right behind her.
“Agnes is sleeping,” Edea replies, and comes into the room so that she can sit next to Tiz, drawing her knees up to her chest. “She needs the rest, so I kicked myself out.” She gives him a rueful smile, and he hesitantly reaches for her hand with his own.
“Thanks,” Tiz tells her, and the older man who settles back into his chair, picking up the deck and cards and reshuffling so he can deal out for three people instead of two.
“It’s not looking good,” Datz says to them both after he’s told Edea the basic rules. “I’ve seen this before, wounds that just fester. White magic only goes so far without real healers. He needs proper treatment.”
Edea stares down at her deck of cards. “If we could get him to Eternia…” They haven’t yet encountered this world’s Victor, so there is a good chance he is still alive. Perhaps he will be willing to heal Ringabel in the White Magic Chamber, especially if she begs her father to save one of his otherworldly sons. But they’ve already talked about how to get to Eternia…. that they can’t.
The peaks are too high for just anyone to pilot Grandship over them. Airy has time and again insisted that Ringabel can’t be the only one - that he isn’t the only who can pilot the behemoth airship, but no one has ever seen anyone else do it. Ringabel had once joked that they only kept him around for his piloting skills. That wasn’t true, Edea had told him then, we keep you around for your fighting skills too. But there is no one else with the skills and knowledge to fly Grandship safely over Eternia’s mountains. They realize now they’ve relied on him too much.
“We’ll do what we can,” Tiz argues. “Maybe one of the cities can help. Eternia isn’t the only place in the world with healers and doctors.”
“… No, we’re not.” Edea replies quiet, not wanting to argue or raise her voice when Ringabel is so fragile and so sensitive to sound. “But can you really think of anyone else who might be able to help? He’s dying, Tiz. He’s dying.” She blinks her eyes rapidly at her cards, willing them to stay in focus, to stop blurring. But her mouth plows on. “All that talk of protecting us and now we can’t even protect him.”
Not for the first time, anger and sadness rise up within her. She still doesn’t understand how someone can be laughing and joking one evening and nearly dead the next morning, by his own hand. She can’t understand why he’d be so selfish as to hurt himself so deliberately. Or so stupid, if it was an accident. She wants to shake him awake and demand explanations, but Ringabel’s damaged state is something she knows she can’t confront with force. It won’t help; it will even hurt him further. She can’t use brute force and she hates it. She hates him.
She’s pulled out of her thoughts by Tiz’s warm, calloused hand over hers…. she hadn’t even realized her cards had been shaking along with getting blurry.
“We'll… fix him,” he says quietly, vehemently.
It’s that which makes her break down, and tears begin to roll back down her cheeks. The idea of fixing Ringabel, as though there was any way for them to fix such a broken man. He had always been fractured, obvious through his loss of memory and his social inappropriateness, but this was beyond just a little damage. This is something that needs care and dedication. Healing. Deep healing. Edea doesn’t know if anyone can even do it. How had they never seen that before? She blames herself, again.
She wipes awkwardly at her face, laughing to herself, and quietly accepting the hanky that Tiz passes over. “All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men…”
The three of them share a bit of a laugh as they glance over at the man. “Shall we try to take him to Caldisla, then?” Datz says, tapping his fingers on the table. “We can get Grandship off the land and we’re rather experienced in docking outside of Caldisla, you know.”
Edea shakes her head, still blotting at her face and feeling ashamed for it. “We could make him comfortable…” It saddens her for a moment, thinking that Karl did not know them in this world. “But the Sky Knights - even if they were to allow us access to their Eschalot, or we were to steal it, I don’t think she has the capabilities of getting into Eternia. She's too slow.” They will need either Grandship, or a ship specially designed. Master has one. Alternis has one. Victor has one… she imagines that others…
That others in the council do as well.
She goes still, thinking, eyes wide.
“Tiz, how far are we from the Yulyana Woods?”
It takes them the better half of a day to move Grandship the long way over the continents to the Yulyana Woods and the lake nearby. Edea’s practically bouncing off the walls of the airship, wishing she had paid closer attention to Alternis’ private airship lessons when she was younger. Maybe then they wouldn’t be in this situation at all. Maybe then…
There is no time for maybes.
“Ah, hello,” Sage Yulyana says to them as the group of three - three, instead of four - approach his cottage. He is as warm and grandfatherly as ever. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“It has been,” Agnes replies, and looks to Edea. On the short walk to his cottage from the lake, they had decided that the Templar’s daughter had best doing the talking. They have left Ringabel in the hands of Datz and Zatz, but every moment counts now. Ringabel’s survival depends on it.
“Sage,” Edea starts. “We know you’re a member of the Council of Six, along with my Father. Other versions of yourself have told us.”
He straightens up and holds his staff tighter as he looks over the three teenagers. “Oh? Have they now? Then you are…”
She nods. “From other worlds. There’s other things, of course, and we must talk at length later, but we’re here now because we need to get into Eternia, and I know you can do it. You did it before, to help us. Please help us now.”
“And why should I do that?” he asks, cautiously but not unkindly. “If what you say is true, then you know I had my reasons for helping you before. What would be my reasons now?”
“There’s a man on our airship who is dying,” Edea says, and she has to swallow hard before she can continue. “A man who, in another world, is Alternis Dim. We need to get him to Eternia for medical treatment before it’s too late. Please. Please.”
“Please, Sage!” Agnes chimes in, grasping her hands together. “We need your help to save his life.”
He’s silent for a moment, a long moment during which their stomachs all twist in on themselves. Then, he gives them a smile. “Why didn’t you say so? How badly is he injured?”
“It’s bad,” Tiz replies, feeling relief and the tiniest bit of hope. “He… he fell from our airship. There are internal injuries and broken bones despite our white magic. He’s had a fever for days now.”
“If he’s that badly injured, then I shouldn’t use magic to transport him. The teleportation spells could jar his body too much,” Yulyana muses. “No, we’ll have to take my old airship. You’re in the lake, I assume? I’ll meet you there in short order.”
Yulyana’s airship is an older model, Edea recognizes, but he assures her that it isn’t so old it can’t take the trip to Eternia easily, and fast. The group loads Ringabel onto it carefully, with Tiz and Zatz carrying him on a stretcher, and Yulyana spends a few minutes looking at him, poking him with the end of his staff and muttering to himself over the shattered state of the man’s body. He gives them herbs to grind up and infuse into some water to help bring down his fever while they make the trip to Eternia, then heads to the bridge to pilot.
Zatz and Datz stay behind on the Grandship, along with the Proprietress. “We’ll move her to Caldisla,” Datz says to them, reassuring them. “It’s closer to Eternia than here, and once Ringabel’s better, you’ll find us there.”
Tiz nods. “We’ll see you soon. Thank you. I’m sure we’ll be able to send messages with updates as he progresses.”
As he progresses, because the alternative is too painful to think of.
Yulyana’s airship is fast despite its age, and the journey to Eternia takes only a day. Edea spends that day in the bed with Ringabel, lying beside him and holding his hand. Agnes is taking the time to rest, so it’s Edea’s job to use white magic now, even though it’s not her strong point. Anything is good enough to keep his fever from roasting him alive, and Tiz keeps an eye on them, just in case he needs to step in. The herbs that Yulyana gives them helps, and she feels hope stir in her chest as he wakes long enough to painfully drink a glass of water before falling back asleep.
Edea is determined to get answers from him, once Ringabel fully awakens. To that end, she’ll do anything to keep him alive.
They dock at the back end of Central Command, and Yulyana asks that they give him some time to find Braev Lee and explain.
“I’ll return soon,” he promises Tiz and Agnes, who meet him on the bridge. “In the meantime, get him ready to be moved. I think… that given the seriousness of his wounds, he might need to be placed in the White Magic chamber that the Spiritermaster developed.”
“He’s been in it before,” Tiz says. The first time Ringabel had spent an extended amount of time in the White Magic chamber, it had been to heal horrific burns and internal poisoning. Would this time be better or worse?
“We will wait,” Agnes says to the Sage. Edea is still keeping her watch on Ringabel, but she knows Edea won't mind waiting a little longer. “Please hurry.”
He nods, and teleports away, and the two of them stare silently at where he had been before turning to go under the deck, where the rooms are. When they enter the one that Ringabel is sleeping in, they find Edea with her head nestled against his shoulder, her fingers intertwined with his. She’s spellcasting, and they wait until she’s done before approaching.
“I think his breathing is getting worse,” Edea whispers. The herbs that Yulyana had given them have worn off by now, and his skin is pale and clammy, his lips nearly white. “He doesn’t have much longer.”
“The Sage will return soon,” Agnes says to her, reaching over to pull back some of Edea’s listless hair from her face. “Ringabel will be fine.”
“Ringabel will be fine,” Edea repeats to herself. How she wishes it will turn out to be true.