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Crosscode Fanfic - The Tale Of A Second Lost Mind.


Uncle Sikee Atric

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Uncle Sikee Atric

Chapter Twenty Eight : 

 

The other Trust Members looked between themselves, Rizuno asking, “how can you do that in the Tower?” 

 

“He showed me and I missed it.  I was too busy and disturbed, fearing other details at the time.  Then he told me he’d see me again; he knew I’d figure it out eventually….” 

 

Sergey was intrigued, “who?” 

 

“The Guardian, the A.I. controlling him in my Instance.” 

 

Terrani finally unwrapped herself from around his neck and returned to her seat with the Trust, drying her eyes as she did so.  While Roz, Reece and Luzee took their own places again, leaving James alone to face the Trust formally. 

 

Lea typed, [he showed you?] 

 

James thought for a moment, “of course, you were gone when we discovered this.  The Guardian in my Instance of the Tower, he has a limited form of the A.I. that powers normal Evotars, but he also has access to our memories and records that he shouldn’t.” 

 

Lea gave Sergey something of an uneasy glance and he replied to her, “I know Lea, the thought of him with powers like that makes me nervous too.” 

 

She nodded back while Terrani noted, “so how do you know who Krait is now?” 

 

James looked at Roz, “I know it’s hard to explain, I have to show you and that’s the only possible way I can think of?  But I’ve had multiple memory recoveries while I was frozen, like I know that my homeworld is Indraya and I was killed on Chorsia, I’ve remembered more details of both.” 

 

Roz didn’t even bother to open her interface to check, she just raised her eyebrows and admitted, “that’s impressive James, you’re correct on both counts.” 

 

Shizuka asked, “so if we allow you access to the Tower, you can show us who Krait is?” 

 

He nodded in reply, “I’ll explain my reasoning too.”  He stopped and thought for a second before saying, “and Shizuka, thank you.” 

 

“For what,” she asked with a confused look? 

 

He thought and sighed, “I wish I could tell you what you did, but you were the one who told me the answer….” 

 

“The answer to what?” 

 

He gazed at Roz for a moment, “when I work out how to explain what happened, I’ll tell you.” 

 

Shizuka shook her head slightly in bewilderment, while Satoshi looked between the Trust Members, asking them, “does anyone have any reason they can’t let James go to the Tower?” 

 

Terrani thought and answered, “the instance isn’t even up currently, the damage from the bombs caused it to crash and shut down, but we should be able to reactivate it, we don’t think it was damaged in any real way?” 

 

Sergey thought for a moment, pressed a few buttons on his D-Link and after a few seconds the view window opened in front of him, revealing Gayle.  He asked her, “have you heard?” 

 

She replied, “heard what sir?” 

 

He nodded in James’ direction and Gayle rotated the window, giving him the sight of a smiling Gayle looking right at him, “it’s good to see you’re up and about again James….  Was I right?” 

 

He just nodded as the rest of the room gave her a very confused expression. 

 

“That’s good to know,” she confirmed. 

 

“Gayle,” Sergey asked and her window moved back to face him, “can you get in touch with our team aiding the Class 1’s rebuild the Wastes?  We need to get the Tower Instance back online; James is going back in.” 

 

Gayle started passing the message on via her keyboard, “I’ll let them know and message you back if there’s a problem reactivating the instance. 

 

“Thank you, Gayle,” and with that, her window faded again. 

 

Sergey looked at James, “by the way, I hope you like Fayrebancs?” 

 

“I do,” he confirmed. 

 

Sergey gave him a stern warning, “okay, but the next time she tries that trick without my consent….” 

 

James raised his hand, “It won’t happen again, I promise.” 

 

He nodded as the Trust Members were discussing a few things between themselves, before Satoshi finished their chat and turned to James, “if you are going into the instance, how will you show us what you see?” 

 

James considered this for a moment and then figured, “I can get inside and Luzee can join me with her Moderation systems, relaying an image back to the others here. 

 

Luzee thought and worked out, “I can do that and supply a secure Mod feed to the holo-projector in this room.” 

 

Sergey added, “I’ll log out and join Gayle on the observation system, I can also use my equipment to check any findings and supply additional detail if I need to.” 

 

Luzee moved over to the Holo-Projector and began interfacing it with her own controls, while the Trust quietly chatted among themselves again before breaking up and Satoshi telling him, so long as there are no problems reactivating the instance, you may proceed James.” 

 

Lea typed, admitting, [I am rather nervous of seeing the Guardian in this way, he still gives me the shivers even today, given what he represents.] 

 

“I understand what you mean Lea,” James confirmed, “I found him unsettling when he talked to me.” 

 

Satoshi noted, “while we wait for an update from the Wastes, I suggest we suspend the Meeting.  It shouldn’t take too long, and I can see Roz is already itching to get an update on the other memories you’ve managed to recover James.” 

 

James nodded in reply and turned around, finding another seat away from the wheelchair that had held him for so long.  Roz pushed it into a corner for now and joined him, while Terrani took the other seat next to him, holding his hand and smiling when he gripped it tightly.  Roz opened her D-Link and with some relief made a call, James hearing, “he’s not coming back Bel’, he’s awake....  Yes, he’s here and seems to be doing okay.”  There was a pause as Bel’ relayed something back to her and Roz finished with, “of course, as soon as I can I’ll get him down to the techs, make sure he gets checked over and send you the reports when they’re done.  See you soon.” 

 

As Roz cut the link, Terrani looked at him and admitted, “it’s just so good to feel you hold my hand again, when you were locked you felt cold and sterile, that’s gone now.” 

 

James smiled back at her, “and you don’t always lose....” 

 

She gave him another look of surprise and then decided, “you really did hear everything I said to you in front of the murals? 

 

He nodded, “it’s difficult to explain, but I did.” 

 

Terrani responded by gripping his hand even tighter, while Roz opened her notes and carefully began to ask, “you’ve clearly had numerous new memory recoveries James, you seem to have far more clarity.  Do you think you can tell me some?” 

 

James turned his head to look at her and admitted, “it’s still a little cloudy, but there’s some clear detail poking through, like Indraya and Chorsia, but there’s some other useful detail too.  Remember the transport café?”  When Roz nodded, he continued, “I now know that I met Lothar Matteus there.” 

 

She gave a surprised look, “Lothar Maatteus, as in, Cobra....  You met Cobra in a transport café at a transfer hub, why?” 

 

He shrugged, “I only know that is what happened, not why....  The other things I recovered were more personal, details of my family, the worlds I spent time on, Hillie....  There was one thing that really stuck with me though.” 

 

Roz pushed him on, “che era?” 

 

“I kept going back to the Birthday Party, and there was a picture on the side I could always see clearly, even though everything else was blurred, it took me to a new memory showing my apartment on Chorsia and I discovered a copy of the image in my wallet, I must have made it when I left so I saw it far more recently, there was a message written on the back from Ella, saying no matter how far I go from Indraya, I’ll carry my family with me....” 

 

“Your family really loved you,” Terrani noted. 

 

“Which makes it worse that Shizuka is having to do what she’s doing, I hope she’s managed to get in contact with them?” 

 

Terrani was going to ask but Roz stepped in, “we can explain later....”  Then Roz went on to ask, “is there anything else important you managed to recover?” 

 

James took a moment to consider the new images meshing into his thoughts, before deciding, “I don’t think so....  Nothing that helps in the current situation anyway.  The only thing that might link us to more recent events at the end of my life was that I was stood on the rooftop, and I remembered the name of Chorsia because it was a sign on an adjacent building, but that’s about all.”  Then he had another thing flip into his thoughts, “oh, yes, my apartment....  It had plans and details of my work, but Pnkayz told me they torched it to destroy my evidence.” 

 

Roz looked down, “that’s a shame.” 

 

“I don’t think it matters, I’ve lost the physical evidence, but I must have saved it all somewhere electronically....” 

 

Roz thought and realised, “the address you recalled for the Cloud Storage, it must be there!” 

 

James nodded and sent out a message on his D-Link, making Gayle appear in her window before him.  He asked her, “Gayle, do you still have that address I gave you for the Cloud Storage?” 

 

Gayle nodded, “of course.” 

 

Roz told her, “we think all of James’ investigative work and notes are stored in the files, from before his death.  Since we are now pretty sure what he was investigating, we need to get access to them.”  

 

Gayle started tapping a few details into her keyboard while James asked her, “do you think you can recover them?  I know I said I’d try and remember myself, but the situation has clearly changed.” 

 

She smiled in the window, “I’ll give it my best shot, but it could take some time I’m afraid.  I don’t have a user account to base the search from, plus the security is likely to be tight if the data stored is as sensitive as you suggest it is.” 

 

James understood, “don’t worry Gayle, we know you’ll try for us.” 

 

Gayle confirmed, “I’ll get back to you if I make progress James.  For now, it looks like you’ll be able to get into the Tower, the team have just reported back that they’ve managed to begin the reinitialization process.  I was about to inform Sergey of this as it should be accessible again shortly.” 

 

Roz confirmed, “okay then, we’ll make preparations to head out there and talk again soon.” 

 

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere and I hear Sergey is going to be here, watching events with me.  Talk to you soon.” 

 

Her window relocated to update Sergey and Roz took the time to confess, “if your Guardian really is as you say, I’m with Lea, this is going to be very uncomfortable.” 

 

Terrani tipped her head forward, “I hate him, the most tangible link to that dark past, but still an important piece of the memorial we try to maintain.  Thinking he’s like he was in the past is something I never thought I would have to consider?  He wasn’t so bad when we had control of his actions and scripting, we’re beyond that now. 

 

James gave her another comforting hug, while whispering to her, “with what you told me about your new dreams, this must be doubly hard?” 

 

She just nodded into his shoulder as a reply, grateful that he was keeping it secret from the others. 

 

Sergey announced to the room, “the instance is being reset and activated now.  James, are you ready to head to the Tower?” 

 

Luzee completed a quick test of her setup and James could see her wearing an earpiece as she approached them.  She looked at James and asked, “ready to go?” 

 

He released Terrani from the hug and stood up, setting his fast travel system.  Roz asked him, “do you want me to come to the Tower with you?” 

 

He thought and shook his head, “I think it’s best you stay Roz, you need to see this too and you won’t get that waiting outside of the Tower.” 

 

She smiled and nodded, “okay.  When you’re done, I’ll meet you in the clinic downstairs.  Bel’ is adamant you’re getting a check-up to make sure everything is okay, before he’ll sign you off fully and not reassign you as a Class 5, at least temporarily.” 

 

He smiled, “that’s fine with me, but this is just too important.  You understand that don’t you?” 

 

“I do, go show us what you need to show us….” 

 

James nodded and joined Luzee, grouping together and setting their fast travel for the Landmark outside the Tower.  Luzee quickly warned him, “it’s still quite a mess here James,” as they phased out and he could see she was right as they reformed at the far end of the Wastes.   

 

James could see several buildings, floors and structures had signs of damage in numerous locations, from cracks and fractures in the Instant Matter, to full craters in several other locations.  The light weight and resistance of it making the damage seem even worse.   

 

A few were gathered around the building with the pylon upon it as one of the charges must have gone off adjacent to it, leaving a ragged hole in the flank, while Avatars with various interfaces open were milling around and inspecting for other damage, before making repairs and re-establishing the missing Instant Matter, filling the cracks and holes with careful precision. 

 

James turned to look at the Tower with Luzee and saw that it too was bearing a few battle-scars from the attack.  It had a few holes around the base and the walls of the surrounding compound were also damaged.  It was Luzee who broke his thoughts as he studied things, “it was a lot worse and there was damage across the entire Wastes, we’ve cleared up the vast majority and finally got around to this as the last phase, we’re hoping to reopen tomorrow and doubled security duties across the rest of the Playground, we’re taking no chances in case of similar attacks.” 

 

“Looking at the damage done here, I can tell that’s a wise precaution.” 

 

Luzee nodded, “we were lucky here.  The checkpoint at the gate was still manned when the bombing occurred, but we were able to perform an emergency evacuation to The Enclave Landmark before anyone was hurt, more through luck than planning to be fair….  I doubt we’ll be as lucky if there’s another attack like that on a different zone.” 

 

As James looked around, he started to realise the last time he had been stood here had been with Luzee as well, as he raced out of the instance and the thought made him shiver slightly. So much had happened to all of them since then. 

 

One of the male Tribladers came over and asked the pair of them, “are you the ones we’ve been told are trying to get into the Tower?” 

 

Luzee nodded, “is there a problem?” 

 

“No, no problem, we were just wondering who was going in, I thought Evotars were restricted from Tower access at the moment?” 

 

Luzee lied, “it’s James going in, and I’m transferring to him via Mod controls.  He has special permission to enter for testing purposes and I’m going to undertake some experimental stability checks that Sergey wants to perform.” 

 

The Avatar looked at them for a moment, then dismissed his own opinions while checking his interface again.  “Well, if you have the permissions,” he checked his interface and the readouts, “it’s all up and running, you should be able to enter.” 

 

“Thanks, Livin,” Luzee replied. 

 

He turned away and returned to his original duties, while James quietly told her, “you’re getting too good at bending the truth Luzee.” 

 

She smiled back, “it’s part of being a Moderator, you have to think up stories on the fly to cover your tracks.  Telling a third party you’re a Game Moderator is a last resort, you’re supposed to remain as hidden as possible to maintain the immersion.” 

 

He smiled as they began walking towards the entrance, “remind me to never trust a word you say again….” 

 

She giggled as she stopped at the entrance, “You’ll know when I’m lying.” 

 

James didn’t reply directly, instead he replied, “you can tell me more in a minute.”  Then he began walking inside, letting the instance take over and the activity outside fade into silence behind him. 

 

---------- 

 

Once inside, James could see the instance was indeed working as expected, he was back inside the lobby of the Tower and the teleport pad was still in place, meaning James could transfer directly to the top of the Tower and stand directly outside the door that led to the Guardian in his chamber.  He stood alone for a moment, contemplating his emotions and preparing himself for what was about to come, before opening his D-Link and sending a single word to Luzee, ‘ready.’ 

 

It took a further moment, but Luzee’s form took shape next to him and she smiled as she regained her senses and location.  “Are you okay,” she asked? 

 

He smiled as an answer, “you sound like Roz.” 

 

“I know,” she confirmed, “she wanted me to ask.” 

 

“I’m fine,” he told her, “but I do have one request for you Luzee.”  

 

She looked directly at him, “what is that?” 

 

He cautioned, “if I ask you to look away Luzee, please do so, without hesitation.” 

 

“How come?” 

 

“Because I don’t know what this thing will show me?  I don’t trust him and he’ll know others are watching, he could show something distressing or unsettling to anyone else watching on your feed.” 

 

“You don’t trust him?” 

 

He shook his head, “he’s manipulative, and he’ll know I’m not alone this time.  He could try anything, knowing it could provoke a reaction from others.” 

 

“I can’t imagine he’d do that?” 

 

“You will once you’ve met him....” 

 

She was clearly hearing something on her feed, before finally replying, “they’re not happy, but they agree to letting me turn away if you ask.” 

 

He smiled back, “thank you,” as the observation window opened and Sergey appeared over them, with Gayle busying herself in the background. 

 

“We’re ready when you are,” he confirmed, “Gayle is monitoring the feed for us, confirming the instance is stable.” 

 

She was clearly studying something, “the feed is weird,” she commented, “it’s like it’s adapting, changing, almost rewriting itself as I watch.” 

 

Sergey told her, “stay on that feed Gayle, we think there’s a simplified form of the Evotar A.I. net here, please monitor it as best as you can, we need logs of the activity.” 

 

“I will sir,” she confirmed, before returning to her role. 

 

James took one last deep breath, controlled his thoughts and said to Luzee, “let’s get this over with,” as he started moving towards the door.  She followed, unsure what to expect. 

 

The door led them out onto the balcony where the Guardian was kneeling on the ground, lost in thought and meditation with his back to them, James studied him, trying to work out how he would react and carefully motioned for Luzee to wait, before taking a few steps forward. 

 

Without even a single indication he was aware of his presence, the Guardian spoke with that powerful voice that pierced his brain, “I was wondering if you’d return?”  Instantly he heard Sergey working on his equipment in his window while the Guardian continued, “you’re not alone either, why is that?” 

 

“We need your aid, Guardian.” 

 

“No, you don’t,” he decided without moving, “you’d never return if it was just to seek my aid….” 

 

James heard Luzee mutter and draw her breath as the Guardian reacted in the way he did, before he decided to respond, “if you realised how bad things are out there, you’d be more cooperative.” 

 

The Guardian lifted his head, “the instance has been down, and it’s only just come back up.  In fact, this is the only instance set running…. 

 

Now he heard Sergey commenting to Gayle, “how on earth did he know that?” 

 

James ignored their questions, “you’ve already accessed my thoughts, you know what I want? 

 

“Do I,” he spun round and revealed he was grinning, “or is it what they want, who is the subject here?”  He could hear Luzee shuffle in an uncomfortable way as he gazed at her with a questioning expression, “I don’t know you, other than what you have told James, Luzee....  Pity.  How’s the shoulder?” 

 

Luzee glanced at James, then back at him, “it’s fine, but you know that’s not why we’re here.” 

 

He nodded, “until James asks, I won’t do anything, just remain here and face this war of words.  I already know the question, but he needs to speak it first?” 

 

James stared him down, “is my compliance that necessary to you?” 

 

“It is....” 

 

By now he could hear Sergey and Gayle working at a furious rate on their equipment while he decided to comply, “then I need to see the place you showed me the last time I stood before you, please?” 

 

The Guardian didn’t move at first, but then starting making a noise, at first it sounded like he was almost sniffling, but the noise grew until he was laughing, in a quite unsettling way.  “Now why would you want to see those images again, you almost decapitated me the last time I showed you them?” 

 

James heard a few nervous noises from behind him as the Guardian ended his last sentence, but he pressed on with the situation.  “You showed me images I should not have failed to notice.  It’s vital I see them again....” 

 

He asked, “is the discovery of Krait that important to you?” 

 

Luzee flinched at the noise coming through her earpiece and James could her Sergey muttering, “this is crazy, there’s no way he knows all this....” 

 

James just smiled at the activity behind him, telling the Guardian, “they’re starting to understand more about you....” 

 

The Guardian just looked at the window, “I’m sure you’ll get all the data you need Sergey.” 

 

Sergey looked up and straight into the window a visible look of unease on his features while Luzee was trying to talk into her headset, calming the voices that must have been coming through to her over their feed.  But she lifted her head and just told James, “Roz now understands….” 

 

Without turning he replied, “I knew she would.  He gives me the….” 

 

“….  Creeps,” the Guardian finished for him? 

 

James almost shivered, but kept his composure and carefully asked, “will you help me or not?” 

 

“I’d help you if you were alone, without question.  Why should you share this with them?” 

 

“If you are reading my thoughts like you say, you already know why?” 

 

“Then I won’t help you, James.  Go….  Come back alone and we can talk,” he pointed at Luzee, “and with none of those headsets either!” 

 

Luzee looked at James and told him, “forget it, we’re wasting our time….”   

 

James however stared the Guardian down, “how dare you,” he exclaimed! 

 

“I refuse to help; your reply doesn’t change my decision.  Now leave! 

 

James now took a step forward and the Guardian raised his hands, suggesting he was getting ready to defend himself and trigger some kind of battle, to which James summoned his blade and carefully took a defensive pose, “why won’t you help us?” 

 

“I don’t have to and I have no desire to do so!” 

 

James shifted, switching his stance to a more aggressive form, while the Guardian continued to stare him down, Luzee told James, “cool it, he isn’t going to help!” 

 

James was about to dash at the Guardian, but Luzee’s words made something click and he just phased his weapon out and started chuckling softly, making Sergey ask, “what’s wrong?” 

 

James calmed himself and replied, “he’s testing me, he told me something during my last visit and he is making sure I haven’t forgotten his words.” 

 

The Guardian dropped his own guard and they watched as his own face broke out into a broad, but unsettling smile, “you didn’t forget, well done!  For a moment I thought you did?” 

 

James stared the Guardian down, “are you going to help us, or not?” 

 

The Guardian drifted forward, “I’ll show you what you wish to see, this time,” he waved his arm at the others around James, “but from this day forward, all of you must understand that any encounters you see in this place will be private and be only for the individual....” 

 

Luzee was clearly getting a lot of chatter through her earpiece and she was distracted for a moment, while Sergey carried on working at his equipment, eventually Luzee managed to get some sort of clear message back and relayed, “they agree, but they’re not happy with the terms.” 

 

The Guardian simply replied, “the terms were non-negotiable,” then he waved his hand and the room around them began to phase and change again, returning them all to the chamber he had taken James to before. 

 

As the Guardian started to move forward into the small ante-chamber just beyond, James quietly warned Luzee, “get ready....” 

 

“For what,” she queried? 

 

The Guardian floated in, followed by James and the torture frame was already in situ, looking cold and intimidating, “are you sure James?” 

 

James replied, “Luzee, look away, turn your back....” 

 

“But....” 

 

“Just do it!  Please?”  There were clear protestations from Luzee’s earpiece, but she did as James asked and he replied, “I’m ready now....” 

 

The Guardian now waved his hand at the frame and the first image of an Evotar being tortured in it phased into view, Sergey exhaling with an audible moan of disbelief at the sight, “Gayle, keep watching that feed, not this,” he warned her. 

 

The next one appeared and James looked up at the Guardian, giving him a dubious expression, “I don’t remember this one?” 

 

The next one took shape and this was clearly Reece, James recalling his N.P.C. in the Wastes, “I’m showing you,” the Guardian noted. 

 

“Not this, show me what I have to see!” 

 

The Guardian moved on, bringing up another Evotar James didn’t recognise, while Sergey had stopped trying to grab stills, images and records, and was watching the evolving scenes with an expression of disgust.  “Not what you need,” the Guardian asked? 

 

“Stop playing games,” James warned him. 

 

Now the Guardian grinned and Terrani reformed in the frame, making James look away and grunt, “you sadistic....” 

 

The Guardian just laughed as she quickly faded again, “the last time you saw that was the time your blade almost took my head from my shoulders.  You really have remembered my advice?” 

 

A few more Evotars took their places in their predicament, before one formed that instantly caught James as soon as he saw it started to form from the feet up.  The one was clearly trapped in a pose where it was crying out in pain and trying to relieve the sheer pain they were suffering. 

 

“Stop,” James asked, taking a moment to study the trapped Evotar, before deciding, “Luzee, turn around, they have to see this.” 

 

Luzee turned around and he could hear her gasp at the unsettling sight, before she took a few seconds to hear the chatter from the others, then she asked, “are you sure?” 

 

James just nodded and confirmed, “I had a dream shortly after I met the Guardian the first time.  In it, I was in one of the frames, next to another Evotar, and their advice was to, ‘scream through the pain,’ said in a totally honest but passing way.  I missed it at the time and it’s only now I understand how important that was.”  He pointed at the image, “that’s the Avatar from my dream, that’s Krait!” 

 

“How is that Krait,” Luzee asked? 

 

“The Guardian reads my memories and plucked the names and appearances of those I had previously met, resulting in him showing any he could identify as interrogated in the past.  That is how this Avatar is here.” 

 

Luzee looked carefully at the image of the trapped Evotar, cocking her head sightly with a surprised expression, talking into her headset as well as James, “if I were not so surprised, I’d say that looks an awful lot like Rizuno?” 

 

There was a pause as her opinion was relayed and Sergey decided “you’re right Luzee, how is this even possible?” 

 

Luzee came back, “Rizuno is gone!  He was at the back of the room and must have fast-travelled as soon as that appeared in the frame, we’re too late.” 

 

Sergey was at his equipment in seconds, “I’m tracking him....”  But he shook his head after a few seconds, “dammit, he’s under tracking blockers, there’s still five Landmarks where they’re active, we’ve lost him!” 

 

The Guardian phased the image out and the entire scene returned to the roof of the Tower, “you have what you came for, leave this place!” 

 

“Come on,” James suggested, “we better get out of here....” 

 

“Not you James, them,” he waved at Luzee and the observation window. 

 

“I don’t think you have a choice?  You better go.” 

 

Luzee paused and as she started to set her Moderation settings, she started to ask, “will you...?” 

 

He spoke up, so the headset could hear, “I’ll be fine Roz, I won’t be long as I’ll get back to the Retreat as soon as I am done here.  I know I have to attend the check-up once I return and this will only take a moment, I’ll meet you there.” 

 

Luzee just nodded as she phased out and Sergey was turning away to ask Gayle, “what did we manage to harvest from that,” while his window closed and sealed? 

 

With them now alone, the Guardian changed the scene around them, back to the rooftop of the Tower, and returned back to his original position, while James asked him, “what is it you want to say?” 

 

The Guardian was silent.  James was about to turn away and walk out when he finally replied, “I’m proud of you James.” 

 

“Why should I take that with any satisfaction?” 

 

“You should, I’m as capable of emotion as you are, even though my existence is fleeting.  Yet my words have been remembered and you’ve taken them with you as you’ve pressed on to places, I can only see through your memories of them.” 

 

James snorted, “you don’t know me at all!” 

 

“I can see how you’ve utilised your gift, carried on learning new information, remembered lost memories and all the while, not let your anger lead your actions, even though you’ve thought about it.” 

 

James tipped his head forward, a little humbled by his words, “I never thought you could see so deep into my thoughts?” 

 

“I see it all, even that which you cannot access yourself.” 

 

James smiled a little, “even that I need to see?” 

 

“That’s not important, and I won’t tell you, no matter how much you ask.” 

 

“Why not?” 

 

The Guardian floated up into the air sightly and slowly drifted towards him, “you have to remember it yourself, and I can see you’ve already recalled so much.” 

 

“No, I haven’t, it still just chunks, pieces, nothing that fits into the overall timeline.” 

 

Chorsia, Indraya, the faces of your family, the small pieces that gradually build to give you that bigger picture....  And I see a message, ‘words, hidden behind words,’ you don’t know what that means, do you?”  As James shook his head, the Guardian carried on, “you will, soon enough.” 

 

“Why were you hostile while the others were here?” 

 

“What you choose, and what you conduct in this place must be private to the Evotar.  It is not for others to observe.  They will have their own experiences and events to process and discuss when they depart.” 

 

“So why did you choose to help me?” 

 

The Guardian studied him for a moment, before admitting, “I knew how important this was to you and them, and letting them see me like this, once, made it clear what my demands are for the future.  I also know what the worries of Sergey and Satoshi are in relation to me, tell them I have no way of having my records and logs stored externally, since I effectively cease to exist as soon as the instance is terminated.” 

 

“I’ll tell them,” James confirmed. 

 

The Guardian started drifting back to his position, “in time, I will meet each and every Evotar, and because my memories are created from their own experiences, I will appear slightly different every time, but you will all know me for what I am.  Maybe in time, some won’t fear me as much as they do now?” 

 

“Then I will leave you, until next time.” 

 

As James started to turn away, the Guardian spoke one last time, “she’s told you her feelings and you’re happy, just don’t ever stop holding her.  Soon she will need you to protect her, more than she will ever admit....”   

 

He fell into silence and James turned away, those final words ringing in his ears and giving him more things to consider once he was away from this place again. 

 

---------- 

 

The Skyrail car stopped at the destination and James stepped off to the sound of waves lapping all around and bubbles drifting through the air.  It was the next day and Roz had promised some time out, away from the Retreat.   

 

He still felt a little groggy after the events of yesterday, but he was happy to be out and about again, among other Avatars and not locked in the sterile world that the Retreat created sometime.  He asked Roz, “why did we come here?” 

 

Roz walked forward, off of the arrival pad and stepping onto the sand while opening her interface, “because after the events of yesterday, we had to get out and find somewhere else.  Once you get off of the main paths and onto the hills, the Azure Archipelago is one of the most private locales and should give a fresh perspective for relaxation. 

 

James looked out over the serene beaches as he descended from the platform to join her, admitting, “I have no memory of this place....  It’s beautiful.” 

 

“This will help too....” 

 

“What’s that?” 

 

Roz pointed down to her feet and showed they were exposed, allowing her the freedom to step barefoot on the firmed sand that made the path, “we’re not fighting anything here, just to chill and reflect, so let yourself go and lower you guard James.” 

 

He kept looking at her bare feet, “I saw you do that in the Marshes, while you were sat with Terrani, how?” 

 

Roz smiled, “it’s a little trick in the cosmetics menu, here let me show you.”  James opened his own menus and with a little guidance from Roz, he accessed the necessary trick to disable his footwear, making his boots phase out and be replaced with a set of bare feet.   

 

James felt somewhat off-balance for a moment and slightly weird, making Roz put out her arm and allowing him to rest and calm, “what’s going on,” he asked? 

 

Roz gave him a very gentle smile, “look down at our feet together and you might get a hint?” 

 

James did as she suggested, noting their feet side by side.  “....  What am I looking at?” 

 

“Look closer,” she suggested, “notice the similarities?” 

 

It took a second, but it dawned on him, “apart from the skin tone and the fact I am slightly taller, they’re essentially identical, right down to how the big toes curl slightly!” 
 

Roz laughed, “normally your clothing is your outer skin, and the developers simply added a ‘universal foot model,’ to base every design of Avatar and Evotar footwear from.  I’ve just demonstrated how to expose that default model, because the benefit is you now have toes, something missing while you wear boots.” 

 

“That’s it,” James concluded, “I can feel the sensation and difference of toes.  I didn’t register it before, they were missing and I never experienced something like this.” 

 

Roz smiled and pushed her toes into the sand, prompting him to do the same, before they laughed together and set off along the wide, warm shore.  At first, James was still unsteady and Roz offered him her arm, giving him a chance to adjust his walk to allow for toes once more, but he was fine after the first few steps.   

 

James checked his interface and saw he had managed to collect all the chests on offer here and Roz beamed warmly, telling him, va bene, because we’re going to use that now.” 

 

“Where are we going, there’s no other way in or out of this place?” 

 

Roz turned right at the first junction, before moving up a short distance and bouncing up the jump pad next to the cliff.  James followed and let Roz lead him back towards the junction, reaching the final point of the cliff and jumping out on the pad, onto the hidden island.   

 

Finally, she stopped and sat on the sand, offering James a place next to her, which he accepted and sat himself.  They were sat facing the mainland of the Playground and James could see Rhombus Square much closer too, the Skyrail over the ocean leading to it had a series of travellers to and from, although it was still much quieter these days and more for excursions and Avatars wanting time away from their own adventures, rather than genuine seekers following the Track to Ku’lero. 

 

James soaked up the heady sound of the waves lapping up against the small island they were perched on, and he turned his head to look at her....  “You’re right Roz?” 

 

Riguardo a cosa?” 

 

“This place, it’s stunning, so peaceful, calm and relaxing.  Add to that the sounds of the sea and I can start to see the images of Indraya that I had lost for so long....” 

 

Roz smiled, “I was looking for an excuse to bring you here, but until you recalled the name of your homeworld, I couldn’t do so.” 

 

“How so?” 

 

“Think about Indraya, and you’ll start to understand.” 

 

James cast the name of his homeworld into his mind and he started to see pictures come back to him, not unlike the view he was seeing currently.  “It’s an Archipelago World, scattered clusters of islands covering the surface of a planetary ocean....” 

 

Roz nodded, “such islands are extremely volcanic as most of them are formed by eruptions on the fault lines, deep on the ocean floor.  That makes such worlds extremely rich in sea-life and seafood protein exports, while also providing lots of opportunities for tourism.” 

 

James thought, then looked up at the Gas-Giant forever tidal-locked in the sky above them, “four moons....” 

 

Roz smiled, knowing what he was referring to from her own research, “what do you mean James?” 

 

Indraya, it has four moons....  They all hang in the sky and have orbits that ring the planet, meaning they all can appear during the day or night.  You see the lights of the colonies twinkling upon them when they cross the night sky above you, now I think about it, it’s beautiful.” 

 

Roz smiled and placed her hand upon his shoulder in congratulations, “well done James.  I’ve never been to Indraya, but I can see the image you refer to in still images taken from the surface.  The outermost moon acts as a transfer station for the entire system, restricting larger ships from approaching closer, but all four moons are little more than massive balls of rock which have rich veins of minerals and resources.  The sea farming of Indraya feeds them all and still provides an excess to export more to other systems, alongside the extracted mineral resources. 

 

“I can see more too....  The town where I spent my teens, with my foster mother and sister, it was one of the commercial coastal towns, not really hot enough to make it worthwhile for the tourists, so we were involved in the seafood and kelp industries.  It was a busy port and market town, with suburban settlements running out along the coastline.  The island wasn’t too large and was dominated by the height of the dormant volcano that must have made it, while just offshore were landing pads that had been sunk onto the seabed to allow ships to load.  I grew up in one of those suburbs, watching the ships arrive and depart and dreaming of exploring out there myself.” 

 

“Do you have any idea of the time before your foster mother?” 
 

James thought, and shook his head, “no, none.  I don’t think I really care enough to know?  The only warmth I feel from my childhood, circles around Ella and my foster mother.” 

 

Roz smiled and relaxed, stretching her legs out and letting her feet dip into the sea as it broke on the sand they were sat upon.  “Do the same as me James,” she suggested? 

 

James copied, carefully letting his toes skim the surface of the water and got quite a sensation back, “the sun makes it so warm, yet the sea is quite cold to the touch, that’s so weird....” 

 

“it’s your feet,” Roz told him.  “Footwear doesn’t register the touch at all since they won’t in reality.  Now you are barefoot, your senses are being forced to adapt sensation from a new source.  Try your hands and you’ll feel the difference.” 

 

James did as she suggested and was quite taken aback by how normal it felt, the water, although composed of Instant Matter, had a sensation like it should, in fact, it was quite warm and tropical.  He withdrew them and replaced his feet in the water and got the weird sensation again, “I assume that feeling will pass as my code adapts?” 

 

“Si, it only takes a few moments.” 

 

They sat in silence, letting James take in the tranquillity of the surroundings, and the peace allowed him to enter an almost zen-like frame of mind.  Roz let him enjoy his peace and just sat next to him quietly, and after a while he opened his eyes, “the sensation feels like it does with my hands now.” 

 

“That’s good.  It’s another little step in you adapting to your new life.” 

 

He nodded, “I just feel lucky to be able to enjoy it.” 

 

“Come mai?” 

 

James looked out over the view, “the sights I experienced while I was trapped and locked.” 

 

“Have you worked out to describe them to me?” 

 

James smiled, “I can explain them a little, and Te’keek....” 

 

She calmly replied, “Te’keek, why him?” 

 

James gave her a warm smile, “I think I understand what happened, I split my consciousness, and he represented the other side of me, as we fought to understand the messages together.” 

 

Roz was working on her notes as soon as he started telling her of his experiences, “you fought, how did you fight?” 

 

“Well, it wasn’t so much fighting, it was him, trying to get me to pay attention, and I just wanted to ignore him.  I could still perceive the outside world and see you all through my physical eyes, but I had no way to influence the view or answer you back.” 

 

Roz nodded and asked, “so what were you fighting?” 

 

“The voice, the booming voice in my head.”  He tipped his head forward and recalled, “it just shouted, ‘scream through the pain,’ constantly, and it drove into my every thought with the power and pain it generated, but when I started to understand and piece together the detail, it changed in inflection and tone.  In fact, thinking back, it did that all the time, getting stronger when I didn’t resist, and then getting confused and panicked when I tried to answer the questions that had left me stuck there.” 

 

“Was it the voice trapping you there?” 

 

He nodded, “but I can’t explain why.  It nearly beat me so many times, even down to the fact I thought it was all over as Bel’ was taking me away, before Terrani stopped him.” 

 

“She saved you?” 

 

“Not just her, all of you did your bit to help me beat the voice.  You helped by being my escort at the Trust Meeting, reassuring Bel’ enough to let me go and ensuring I had the extra time I needed before the voice won, Terrani got me that time, and it was Shizuka who gave me the detail I needed to understand.” 

 

“You said thank you to her, what did that mean?” 

 

“She must have said something to someone else at the meeting, and I picked it up and understood what I needed to piece the detail together and beat the voice once and for all.” 

 

Genuinely interested, Roz asked, “what was that.” 

 

James smiled and admitted, “what are you missing?  It made me realise that everything I was experiencing from my memories was missing key details.  It was then the voice began to fit and I understood it was from my shared memories of Terrani’s torture, the first time I went into the tower, and the fact the Guardian showed me everything I needed to know all that time ago.”  James looked down, “I’d missed what I needed to see, and it was all just my own, stupid mind telling me to wake up and put it all together.” 

 

Roz smiled back to him and placed her hand on his shoulder as she grinned, “you clearly did that James, and you saved me from getting reassigned too.” 

 

James laughed, “I thought you’d be desperate to get rid of me, after all the stress we’ve been through to get here?” 

 

Roz admitted, “never, I’m enjoying myself too much,” then she laughed, happy that their journey was going to continue together, at least for a little longer.  When they settled down again, James returned to his thoughts, letting the sea lap against his feet while Roz made a few more notes and she eventually returned her hand to his shoulder while asking, “did you hear the secrets everyone told you?” 

 

He looked at her and nodded, “every word, and I’m keeping their secrets safe.” 

 

“I never told you my secret though....” 

 

“You don’t have to.” 

 

Roz looked down, “I need to.” 

 

James turned to stare at her, “no, I don’t need to know, all the work you’ve done to get me to this stage means I know you better than the others anyway.  You’ve never left my side and only done everything to put me first....” 

 

“....  I’m a little jealous of Terrani....” 

 

He stared at her, a blank expression on his face, “what, why?” 

 

She quietly confessed, “I’d never do anything to hurt my relationship with Reece,” she lowered her hand from his shoulder and looked him in the eye, “but I understand what Terrani sees in you James....  I missed you as much as she did while you were trapped in that wheelchair.” 

 

He was rather taken aback by her frank admission, “I, I....  I’m flattered, but me and Terrani just....” 

 

Roz smiled, “it’s not a love like that James.  It’s more like a sibling relationship I want to share with you, even long after our time together like this is over.  I don’t ever want to lose contact with you James, the half-brother I never had....” 

 

He thought and smiled, before holding out his hand and letting her shake it, “I promise that will never happen Roz, I don’t want to ever lose the friendships I’ve made with you or the others over our time together.” 

 

Roz smiled happily, and then returned to looking out to sea with him for several moments, before James managed to ask her, “is there any other shocking revelations you want to discuss with me, before we leave this place?” 

 

Roz grinned, giggled and then settled down, before thinking of a shocking question to ask him, “are you surprised at Rizuno?” 

 

He thought for a moment, “more confused.  Why was Rizuno even in the frame?” 

 

Roz considered his opinion, “it doesn’t make sense, and there’s clearly some hidden past he’s never revealed.  But it does explain his behaviour when he came to visit us in the garden....” 

 

“How so?” 

 

“He dumped our suspicions all on Terrani, diverting us from his own actions.  He knew then that she was going to inform the Trust of our plan to infiltrate the Slums Teat Area.”  

 

James nodded, “but did he tell them of my new abilities with class-switching, or anything else, he clearly knows what tricks I have up my sleeves?” 

 

Roz thought, “I’m starting to suspect he didn’t, like he’s holding back fragments of detail....  Something that’s very odd, given the situation he’s found himself in, but there is one thing I can agree with you on.” 

 

“What’s that?” 

 

“He’s Krait, he has to be.” 

 

“Why do you say that?” 

 

“As soon as Luzee turned around and we saw that image of him in the torture frame, it was clear what you were seeing, and what the Guardian had done to reach that image.  You had seen Rizuno before that point at the first Trust Meeting, and the Guardian used that to show him to you, yet because you were thinking of Terrani you missed it, mind you, given how he looked, I would have missed him too.” 

 

“What did the room think when Luzee figured it out?” 

 

“We were so fixated on the screen, we didn’t even notice Rizuno was gone, as soon as he saw it himself, he must have realised he was discovered and ran.  He didn’t even stay to try and argue a defence, which to me is the most damning evidence.” 

 

James nodded, “I’m guessing no one has found him?” 

 

“There are a few locations on the Playground where there’s extensive tracking blockers still in operation.  He has to be at one of them.” 

 

“Where are they?” 

 

“Further on, deeper into the Playground.  You still have quite a lot of the story to discover and progress to complete....” 

 

James nodded, looked out over the view and quietly asked her, “would you stop me finding that story out, and trying to hunt down Rizuno while doing so?” 

 

“It’s not your problem anymore James,” Roz confirmed to him.  “We’ve helped narrow the search and exposed their Mole; you’ve done your bit.” 

 

He turned back to her, “I know, but I‘m responsible for all this Roz, my notes, research and years of work is all tied in me, lost in my memories.  They’re desperate to get rid of me, and I think it’s because they’re scared, in case I do remember everything!” 

 

Roz sighed heavily and sent something in her D-Link, before looking out across the sea, back towards the Playground.  “I was worried you were going to demand to keep going....” 

 

“Why worried,” he asked softly? 

 

She admitted, “All the way through this madness, I’ve thought of nothing but your own safety.  Now you’re desperate to go back into the danger, to keep on learning of your past in the most hazardous way....  Even though it’s no longer necessary.” 

 

He tipped his head forward, “I understand Roz, and it’s clear the way our relationship has developed has only made things worse.” 

 

She nodded and stayed silent, letting that comprise her answer, while James closed his eyes and returned to his peaceful contemplation.  Roz left him to his meditation and worked on her own notes, waiting for him to resolve his actions and return to her at his own pace.   

 

After about ten minutes, one of the bubbles that drifted through the air of the Azure Archipelago brushed against James’ nose and popped, breaking his trance and making him look up.  It let him discover the others had joined them on the lonely island and they were all sat around himself and Roz, waiting for him to realise they were here.  He smiled at them all and Terrani moved over to sit directly next to him, holding his hand and giving him a little kiss as she did so.  While Reece was sat next to Roz and hugging her. Even Gayle was sat with them, enjoying the atmosphere and soaking up the tranquillity. 

 

“When did all of you get here?” 

 

“I invited them,” Roz admitted, “I already knew what you were going to ask, and wanted them to hear it as well.” 

 

Gayle laughed, “I think we all know what the request is.  Right,” she asked the others? 

 

The others nodded while he grinned back, “is it that obvious?” 

 

Reece laughed, “you want to press on with your progress.  Yes, it is that obvious James.” 

 

They shared a gentle laugh, before Gayle replied, “Sergey has left me at your command Roz, I think he knew what James would want as well, let alone being curious about what other data we could harvest and add to the investigations about your class abilities, James.”  She held out her hand for him to hold, “I’m in, wherever we end up and whatever we face, I’m in.” 

 

A second passed and two other hands joined their handshake, Roz and Terrani, Roz was beaming and Terrani put her other arm around James’ shoulders, hugging him as she did so.  “I’ve got to at least make some effort to think about the impending Trust elections, but I’ll help wherever I can,” she confirmed. 

 

Roz looked at her, “I don’t think you have to worry too much Terrani, now we know Krait has been exposed, everyone knows you were right to make the stand you did.  You’ll have earned an awful lot of respect for your actions.” 

 

Terrani smiled, “even so, I’m going to have to at least make some public effort, and I have Luke to fall back on.  I’ll talk to him and maybe I’ll have someone I could call, a campaign manager?” 

 

Roz laughed, “I never thought I’d see one of those around here ragazza....” 

 

“Neither did I,” she replied, “a lot has changed, hasn’t it?” 

 

James was enjoying their bonds of friendship from them all and looked up at Reece and Luzee.  “Are you with us,” he asked them? 

 

Luzee and Roz looked at each other for one second, and then both leaned forward and placed their hands with the others.  “You know we are,” Luzee confirmed.... 

 

The handshake broke and they all returned to looking out towards Rhombus Square and the mainland, before Reece quietly asked, “is this the right time?” 

 

“Whatever for,” Roz asked? 

 

James simply replied, “yes,” making Reece break out into a big, but nervous smile. 

 

“What’s going on,” Roz asked him? 

 

Reece stood and repositioned himself, squatting into the gentle surf that brushed against their small island, before looking straight in her eyes.  “Roz, it’s time we had a talk, about us....” 

 

Roz gave him a slightly concerned gaze, “che cos’è?” 

 

Reece gulped, then began, “I’ve loved you for eight years Roz, but the last few weeks have shown me, it’s time....”  He got on one knee and his voice was wavering as he asked, “Rozwena, will you marry me?” 

 

There was a stony-faced silence from Roz as Reece tried to continue, “I want to make it official Roz, get married and show everyone.  I’ve decided to leave The Enclave and move to Ba’kii Kum, with you....” 

 

Still Roz didn’t reply and gave him no clue as to what she was thinking. 

 

Reece stammered on, “I, I mean, I know we can’t give up our duties, especially you with the Guiding....  And I always love our D-Link chats, but just one night a week, a date night, a night together like we’ve been enjoying, that’s the only change I ask?  Then, when you are free, I’ll be with you at home, our home....” 

 

Roz couldn’t resist any longer and gave the game away by breaking out into a big smile, “si....” 

 

Reece stopped and looked at her, “seriously?” 

 

“Si, you idiot,” then she pulled him in to share a huge hug and kiss, while the others all cheered around them, when they broke up, they stayed arm in arm as the others took turns to congratulate them. 

 

Eventually things settled down and Reece relaxed, wrapping Roz in his arms and laying his head on her shoulder, “I honestly thought you were going to reject me when I asked….” 

 

“Well, there’s one thing you still have to do,” Roz noted as she opened her interface and made Reece look at it, “which one, you romantic fool?” 

 

Reece spent a moment choosing and then suggested, “that one, that’s you.” 

 

Roz made the selection and the ring he had chosen appeared on her finger, a slim, silver band with a small, cut and polished sapphire as the stone.  Roz held her hand out and decided, “it’s perfect, I love it.” 

 

Now Luzee noted, “you have to celebrate!” 

 

Reece checked his messages, “it’s already arranged, we’re going to Lukes’ tomorrow night, and you’re all invited to the party.” 

 

Gayle looked a little sad, “I’m working and I don’t have the necessary Shade Keys or passes, but I’ll be there in spirit.” 

 

“What about the rest of you?” 

 

They all nodded, Terrani noting, “I’ll get a chance to speak to Luke, make a few arrangements for the election events….” 

 

James looked at her, joking, “just so long as I get five minutes with you?” 

 

Terrani laughed, “of course, I’m looking forward to it already.” 

 

Roz looked at the others, “this works out for us as well.”  She looked at James, “we need to spend tomorrow going over the rest of the new memories you’ve recovered, especially the memories of Chorsia, given the importance of them to you.”  James nodded as Roz continued, “we’ve also got a training session in the morning, so it’s another busy day.  But we’ll head for Imelda the day after, and you can carry on your progression towards the Stockyards.” 

 

“The Stockyards, is that the next instance?” 

 

Roz nodded and then paused, “well….  You’ll see when we get there.”  James nodded and Roz looked at the others, “we need to head back and get some rest.  We have a busy day tomorrow, and a party tomorrow night….” 

 

Reece laughed and kissed her on the cheek, “I’ll see you tomorrow, fiancée.” 

 

Roz gave him something of an uncomfortable look, “that is going to take some getting used to,” making him smile. 

 

James felt Terrani shuffle and turn, giving him a passionate kiss and saying, “I love you,” to him. 

 

He said, “I love you,” back as she broke the kiss and stood, offering her hand to help him stand as well. 

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow night, have a nice day.” 

 

Roz stood next to him and set her fast-travel, while he replied, “you too,” before they faded out together to return to the Retreat. 

Edited by Uncle Sikee Atric

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  • 3 weeks later...
Uncle Sikee Atric

Chapter Twenty Nine : 

 

He knew this was a dream.... 

 

James was stood between two shapes, back in the mist and murk that he had been locked in, but now it was black, dark and outright petrifying.  Te’keek was nowhere to be seen and these figures were different, one powerful and dominating the area to one side, the other one meek, small and as scared as he was of the first figure. 

 

“Help me,” the small figure told him.  “Please, you must believe me, help me.” 

 

The powerful figure looked across at the pleading one, telling James, “it doesn’t deserve help, it deserves nothing, it’s a traitor!” 

 

The meek figure tried again, “you must believe me.  Please, help me, I’m as trapped as you....” 

 

James stepped aside as the strong figure barged past him, drawing the darkness along as he did so.  It towered over the weak one and laughed, “I should crush it, destroy it.”  It pointed at James, “that’s what he wants too!” 

 

James looked at the strong figure, “how do you know what I want?” 

 

“It’s obvious,” it countered, “for what it has done, it doesn’t deserve pity, it deserves justice, retribution!” 

 

“Please,” the meek figure tried again, “you must believe me, you have to believe me, help me!” 

 

The strong figure laughed and raised his hand, ready to slap the meek one to the floor, but James got to the raised arm and grabbed it, holding it in place and saying, “that is not the answer!” 

 

The strong figure brushed him off and released itself, but lowered his arm as James had warned him, “if you will not destroy what deserves to be destroyed, then what?” 

 

James looked at the meek figure and it looked totally pathetic, kneeling on the floor and pleading to him.  “Help me,” it said again! 

 

“No one must be judged, without a chance to offer their case,” he finally decided. 

 

The strong figure reacted by drawing itself even larger, the darkness growing and engulfing everything, “it must be destroyed, made to pay the price for its actions!” 

 

The meek figure huddled down, laid on the floor and told them, “I’m begging you, please....” 

  

James sighed, “what will that prove?” 

 

“It will prove you were right; you were correct, you deserve to be the judge!” 

 

“....  But not the jury and executioner....” 

 

The strong figure grunted, “why is what everyone else thinks so important?” 

 

James looked down at the meek, pathetic figure, “because they have their own opinions of me, maybe I’m the guilty party to them?” 

 

The strong figure pushed James aside and in a quick, fluid motion, kicked the weak figure, before James could react.  But the weak figure countered instantly, wrapping itself around the leg and biting, scratching, fighting back in an unnatural and brutal way.  The darkness grew around itself even more, soon becoming more than that projected by the strong figure, and the two figures continued to struggle for a short period, but the meek figure was clearly winning. 

 

The strong figure took one last look at James, telling him, “for the sake of everyone, I hope you are right....”  Then both figures popped out of existence, producing a powerful shockwave that knocked James from his feet and made him fall backwards, but the ground didn’t stop him falling, and he kept going, the buildings forming around him as he did so.   He flipped in the air and saw below him that the real ground was there, coming towards him too quickly, there was no way to stop now! 

 

Before he hit the floor, he opened his eyes and discovered the welcoming sight of his room.  James took a moment to rise, all the time, thinking about the messages the dream was telling him.  He was starting to suspect he knew who the two figures were supposed to represent and he got out of bed, trying to discern anything from the shapes to prove his theories.   

 

James drew a small cup of Instant Water and retreated to his chair on the balcony, the images and messages still swirling around his head.  He took a slight sip of the water and got a sharp, sweet lemon taste back from it, while the images kept spinning.  What was he trying to tell himself this time? 

 

He almost didn’t see Roz coming onto the balcony, the gate opening was the first moment he noticed that she was already here, “you look lost in thought this morning James, did you have a bad dream?” 

 

He looked up and nodded at her in greeting, while replying, “yes.  But to be fair, it felt more like a lucid dream, very vivid and prominent.” 

 

“A lucid dream,” she noted as she sat and opened her interface, “what happened?” 

 

James calmed his breathing and closed his eyes, “I was back in my head and two figures were there with me, a strong one and a weak one.” 

 

“Do you know who they were?” 

 

He shook his head, “no, they were shaped like the mists, made in the same way as the images from when I was locked, wispy and immaterial....  The weak one was begging for my help, while the strong one was urging me to strike the weak one down, calling it a traitor, a failure....”  Roz didn’t comment as she noted the details, but James pressed on, “they were both trying to grab my attention, force me to choose, but I resisted and tried to keep the neutral position, willing to reserve judgement.” 

 

“What happened?” 

 

James sighed as he replied, “in the end the strong one attacked, and the weak one fought back, in a way I never expected, he was winning, and clearly winning too.  The strong one ended the dream by telling me that I better be right about my choice, then they vanished, creating a shockwave that pushed me away and woke me up....” 

 

Roz lifted her head from her notes as he stopped, “is that the dream as you recall?” 

 

He nodded, “it’s so clear and vivid, like the last time I dreamed after I faced the Guardian.” 

 

Roz considered, “do you think he could be some form of trigger for you to have dreams like that?” 

 

He finished his cup of Instant Water and carefully pondered Roz’s question, “I suppose that’s possible, but I couldn’t be sure?” 

 

Roz closed her interface, “I think we may have found a trigger for you to experiment with lucid dreaming James....  It’s possible we can train you to see him and understand what you are experiencing is a dream, and you can have control of it.” 

 

“Do you think?” 

 

Roz grinned, “si, I’ll consider how to work on this theory while you attend the training session.  Apollo and Luzee are no doubt eager for you to get to work.” 

 

James nodded and stood, letting Roz lead the way through the Retreat and down into the gym.  James got the warming sight of Luzee sparring with Apollo again, while Emilie was being the scoring judge, and they were clearly practising their martial arts on each other.  Luzee even managed a clear punch on Apollo’s chest and he was grimacing as Emilie called the proceedings to a halt. 

 

Luzee gave Apollo a respectful bow then Apollo returned it, before they both bowed to Emilie and Apollo looked at Luzee, “you were lucky with that contact!” 

 

Luzee grinned back, “I knew you were going to expose your chest when you went for that move.  You sometimes become too predictable with your fighting style.” 

 

Apollo noted her comments, before turning to James and Roz as they approached, “good to see you James,” he began, “today you’ll carry on with your sparring with Luzee and I want you to continue showing your skills with countering and health management.  While I know I’ll be the target again, once Luzee takes over.” 

 

Luzee acknowledged Apollo’s comments, “I have my own ideas for training, and I want you to practise something that becomes important for Hexacasts, teamwork....  We are more than solo contributors, sometimes we can really help with key actions in party situations and I want you to have some training in those areas today.” 

 

James nodded and switched to his Spheromancer form, while Emilie stepped back and let him pass onto the training mat.  In a few moments the session was well underway and Emilie eagerly pulled Roz to the side benches, “go on then, I want all the details,” she pressed. 

 

“About what” 

 

Emilie pointed at the new ring on Roz’s left hand. 

 

“Oh, that,” Roz commented, totally uninterested. 

 

“You liar,” Emilie joked, “Reece finally held his nerve!” 

 

“What do you mean by that?” 

 

“Anyone could see he’s been trying to pop the question for ages, it was so obvious.” 

 

Roz smiled, giving the game away, “we were all sat on the beach on the Archipelago and he decided it was the right time to finally ask.” 

 

Emilie took the opportunity to give Roz a warming hug, telling her, toutes nos félicitations,” as she did so. 

 

Roz released the hug, telling her, “to be honest, I’m relieved, I was starting to think he would never ask.” 

 

Emilie grinned, “and I love the ring too, it really suits you,” while she opened her interface. 

 

“What are you doing?” 

 

Emilie smiled, “I’m showing my own,” and she revealed an image of her real-world hand, complete with her own engagement ring, “I was saving this until Lea got to see it first, but now you can see it too.” 

 

Roz admired the image, “it’s divine, and perfect for you Emilie,” then she looked around, “where is Lea by the way?” 

 

Emilie smiled, “she’s having a few days of rest in Monsieur Tronny’s private villa, before she’s back to the Welcome Centre and the bustle of Rhombus.  She deserves it....” 

 

Roz agreed, “si, she does.  At least we know she’s not in any danger anymore.” 

 

Roz asked, “did Lea tell you if they tried to hurt her in any way?” 

 

Emilie shook her head, “not really.  She has said they did try to limit the time she was offline, make her sleepy and more compliant, but other than that, nothing.  She’s also spoken about the questions asked and the conversations, but they made her more confused than anything else.” 

 

“Why?” 

 

“It was all small-talk, chit-chat, gossip even....  She was expecting hard interrogation, but got nothing of the sort.” 

 

Roz thought, “I can’t understand that?” 

 

Emilie considered things, watching as Luzee fired a series of projectiles at James, which he carefully timed and shielded his way through, dodging at a precise moment and dashing through the last few shots, getting him close to Luzee and swiping at her, but pulling his chakram swipes to not contact her.   

 

Luzee grinned, impressed at the growing skill of their pupil, while Emilie turned back to Roz and decided, “I can only assume they knew they were too late, meaning their chance to get to the control servers in the Tower was gone?” 

 

Roz nodded, coming to the same conclusion as Emilie, before asking, “did you see any other activity on that photo?” 

 

Emilie nodded, “but it was more other people asking the question, ‘who is he?’”  Emilie giggled, “there’s quite a few jealous posts too, saying Terrani is lucky, James is dishy!” 

 

Roz laughed, “and very much taken now, you saw their hug at the Trust Meeting?  Terrani had admitted her feelings for him, just before the meeting itself.  It was impossible to miss.” 

 

Emilie looked at him, “he knows my secret too, about Julian.  The only other Evotar apart from yourself and Lea....” 

 

“Why did you tell him?” 

 

Emilie shrugged, “I thought I had to.  Besides, I was worried he wasn’t going to ever come back?” 

 

Roz nodded, “I was so worried too....  But he’s here and he’s keeping the secrets told to him, although I suspect Reece told him his plan to propose.” 

 

“How so?” 

 

“Just before the idiot did, he asked, ‘is this the right time?’  To which James told him, yes, it was.” 

 

Emilie laughed, “I wonder how long he’s been plotting to propose?” 

 

Roz thought long and hard, watching James, spar with Luzee, before deciding, “it’s been at least since we stopped overnight at Toby’s.  We had our first, private date night just before then and it was clear he enjoyed spending time with me, rather than chatting on D-Link.”  She paused and watched as James got broken by a clever attack formulated by Luzee and they spent a few moments discussing his mistake on the training mat, before she turned back to Emilie, “that’s the only change he wants while I’m working, one night a week, just a few hours together on a date, and he’s leaving The Enclave to join me in Ba’kii Kum.” 

 

Emilie smiled at her, “you two will be so happy together.” 

 

“Si, I was content before, I didn’t realise how much my mood would change with this.  I feel secure, it’s not quite the same as before, even though little has changed in reality.” 

 

Emilie agreed, “I know what you mean....  Rather than just having fun and being with someone, you actually have to plan, think ahead, make decisions together, it’s weird.  I used to discuss all my choices with Lea, now I’m doing it with Julian.” 

 

“I’m sure Lea doesn’t mind....” 

 

Emilie smiled, “no, she doesn’t mind, and I’ve now had the chance to tell of my plan to leave her an Evotar form of myself too.” 

 

“How did she take that?” 

 

“At first, she was apprehensive, but I’ve had the chance to sit for an hour and fully discuss this with her, and she’s thrilled.”  Emilie grinned, “Lea is already planning ahead and it looks like she wants to convert the upstairs of her house to give my Evotar a studio flat, at least while she settles in.....” 

 

“Do you think your Evotar will be happy, especially with how Lea has confessed about her feelings for you?” 

 

That question made Emilie stop and think momentarily, before she decided, “I’ll be happy, Lea will be happy, I’m sure my Evotar will be happy too....  But you’d make sure you kept an eye on her, right Roz?” 

 

Roz smiled, “of course I will.” 

 

Emilie leaned in and gave Roz a hug, while sniffing slightly, a little sadness in her eyes. 

 

“Che cos’è?” 

 

Emilie admitted, “it’s just sad, I’m making these plans to hang up my Crossgear, leave you all behind.  It’s just difficult to be bright and happy about it all, knowing I’m just walking away.” 

 

Roz reassured her, “we’ll be happy for you.  We know you’ll be leading your own life, fulfilling your dreams of a family....  Do you have other plans as well?” 

 

“I didn’t at first, but Julian gave me a very tempting idea....” 

 

“What’s that?” 

 

“With my work here, he suggested I should gain my training qualifications, and then I’d be able to help out with mental health groups, running and leading community group sessions.” 

 

Roz nodded, “that’s a perfect role for you Emilie, I’m sure you’ll love it, being able to carry on helping others in the way you do now.” 

 

Emilie smiled, “and I’ll be still able to raise a family while doing it....” 

 

Apollo was finishing his teaching session, so Luzee was indicating it was time for him to become a Hexacast and begin the training there, while Luzee waved at the pair of them, “I need party members, you’ve just volunteered!” 

 

Roz stood and looked at Emilie, “ready for some fun?” 

 

Emilie grinned as she stood herself, “try and stop me....”  They laughed together as they crossed the floor towards the training mats. 

 

---------- 

 

Roz led James out to the courtyard behind the conference room in the afternoon, revealing she had a painting easel prepared by the fountain.  He approached it and asked, “where is your easel?” 

 

Roz smiled a little, “today, it’s not that simple.  I want to try and new technique and combine a few previous ideas, maybe that will help you with some more small detail?” 

 

James picked up the palette and stared at the prepared canvas, “what are you going to try?” 

 

Roz smiled, “well, you’re going to paint, and while you are undergoing the trance you enter while you do so, I’m going to ask you a series of questions, as if you were on a therapy couch.” 

 

James looked at her with an expression that looked somewhat nervous.  “What are you expecting to happen?” 

 

Roz shrugged, “I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out the results, right?” 

 

“What if someone disturbs us, should we be doing this in public?” 

 

Roz tipped her head forward, “you have nothing to fear, no one is going to disturb us.  I came here because this area was tended yesterday, we will be alone all afternoon.” 

 

James took up a brush and placed it on the easel while staring at it, “I don’t even know what I want to paint?  I’m looking at the canvas and just see, nothing.” 

 

Roz carefully replied, “in the past you produced images that were totally different to what you originally planned.  I suggest you just start and see where your trance takes you?” 

 

James nodded, then carefully piped some paint onto his easel, mixing them together until they made a tone that pleased his thoughts, and then he started to paint, applying the colour to the canvas in a broad series of strokes. 

 

Roz waited, making sure James was totally entranced with the painting, before firmly asking, “James?” 

 

He grunted in reply, not taking his eyes from his work. 

 

“Can you hear me, James?” 

 

Again, he grunted, not really noting her question. 

 

“I want to speak with James, can he reply?” 

 

“Yes....” 

 

“What are you painting James?” 

 

James was totally glazed over now, “I don’t know....” 

 

“Why don’t you know?” 

 

James mumbled, “I only see what the paint allows me to see....  I’m blind to the world.” 

 

“Why blind?” 

 

“....  Why does the voice ask that?” 

 

Roz looked at him, a little perplexed by the depth of the trance he had descended into.  James was now mixing a fresh colour onto his palette and Roz asked, “what colour are you mixing?” 

 

James didn’t even look at the colour, “it’s not important, until the painting reveals itself....” 

 

Roz pondered James as he continued to apply the paints, trying to think of a way to break through his concentration without breaking the trance, when James questioned her, “why has the voice stopped?” 

 

“What do you mean?”  James didn’t reply initially, making Roz ask him, “what does the voice do for you?” 

 

“It helps me focus on the painting; I am beginning to see what it is becoming.” 

 

“What is the painting becoming?” 

 

“Space....” 

 

Roz didn’t move to view the painting herself, she let James keep the privacy of it for now, “why space?” 

 

“It’s what I saw when I looked up, when the rain finally stopped....” 

 

“When the rain stopped?” 

 

James didn’t nod, but he acknowledged, “the rain never stopped for long, but it would break occasionally and the clouds would part, letting you see space, the vastness above, and the other nearby places....” 

 

Roz quietly opened her interface and checked her notes, while asking, “the rain, are you thinking of somewhere you have stood before?” 

 

James flatly replied, “before I came here....” 

 

Now Roz paused as she quickly researched a little, before piping up and asking, “is James thinking of anything else, outside of the painting?" 

 

He took a moment to figure out what to apply next, and mixed another colour up, before eventually returning to painting and replied, “no, nothing,” to Roz’s question. 

 

“When you’re painting, does that scare you, or make you nervous, not thinking of anything else?” 

 

“No....” 

 

“Why?” 

 

“The painting is telling me all I need to know, and the image I can draw from the lost detail.” 

 

This is what Roz had been probing for, looking for a shred of detail that she could employ, “when you say lost detail, do you mean the detail that James struggles to see normally?” 

 

“James sees them, but they’re blurry, impossible to make out due to the fog.  The painting removes the fog, lets James see the image clearly.” 

 

“Is the image important?” 

 

“It tells James of his past, that’s the most important thing now....” 

 

“Why is telling him of his past so important?” 

 

James remained locked in his trance and applied more paint, before mixing a fresh colour, but he remained silent.  He didn’t answer the question. 

 

Roz tried again, keeping the calm, professional tone, so James could hear it clearly.  “Why is telling him of his past so important?” 

 

“He needs to know these things, if he is ever to make peace his with past and settle here.” 

 

Roz thought, “but James has friends, someone to love, he already has a future?” 

 

James took a little while to consider his canvas, mixing yet another colour and ignoring Roz momentarily, before he picked up the brush again and told her, “it is not enough to make James happy, he knows his past is tied to every future here.  He has to know as he has come too far to give up now....” 

 

“Is that why you want to keep on, finish Port Imelda and keeps searching for them?” 

 

“Yes....” 

 

“Regardless of any potential danger?” 

 

“Yes....” 

 

Roz made a few more notes and then asked, “is James happy?” 

 

Without flinching he replied, “James is....  Worried.” 

 

“Why worried?” 

 

“The final words of the Guardian are playing on the thoughts....” 

 

“What were the words?” 

 

James didn’t reply and he was still lost in his trance. 

 

“What did the Guardian say?” 

 

James turned away, found a finer brush and finally replied....  “James must not stop holding her, soon she will need James more than she will ever admit....” 

 

Roz quickly noted the words down and asked, “who do you think he was referring to?” 

 

“My love....” 

 

“Are you sure?” 

 

“Yes....” 

 

Roz took a second to observe James’ facial features.  His expression suggested he was slipping deeper into the trance and with few questions left to ask for now, she suggested, “do you want the voice to stop, so you can quietly carry on with your painting,” to him? 

 

“Yes....  But it was nice to talk.” 

 

“Very well, you carry on painting and we’ll talk like this again at some point.”  With that, Roz fell into silence, studying and updating her notes while making a little research of her own, suspicious of what James was painting.   

 

He meanwhile, retreated into the stony silence he usually adopted when he painted, the trance becoming all-consuming and it was quite a while before he broke it and looked at Roz, smiling as he did so.  “I think I’ve finished....” 

 

Roz looked up and smiled at him, “you’ve been quite a while, did you enjoy that?” 

 

He nodded, “it was so peaceful....” 

 

“Did you hear me asking you questions as you worked?” 

 

“No....  What questions did you ask?” 

 

Roz grinned, “just a series of question that tested the level of trance you entered.  It’s like you said you split your consciousness when you faced Te’keek, I was testing you to see what parts of your mind you were using when you painted?” 

 

“Did you learn anything?” 

 

Roz smiled, “quite a lot, including the words you took away from the Guardian the other day.” 

 

James looked a little nervous, “you mean, about Terrani?” 

 

She nodded, “don’t worry, I have no reason to tell them to anyone else, the words will be safely kept with me....” 

 

He smiled weakly, knowing she would keep her promise, before turning to his painting, “what did I paint this time?” 

 

“Do you know” 

 

He looked at the painting, “something is there, but I’m not quite sure yet....” 

 

Roz smiled, “that was something I asked while you were painting.  It seems that part of you does know what it is painting, like it’s telling you these images are there in the mist and you are showing yourself what you can really see?” 

 

He bit his lip, “hm,” as he carried on looking at the painting, “that’s something I never thought about, the way my mind tried to convey messages.  I guess this one of them?” 

 

Roz stood and smiled, “it seems so.  Now, do you want to show me your painting?” 

 

James stood aside and let her approach, revealing two moons in a night sky, one was bare and had the lights of colonies glinting upon it, while the other was green, verdant and bright, framed with the weather systems of wispy clouds hanging above it. 

 

The painting was created with the usually high level of skill that James seemed to exhibit and he looked up at the sky above trying to figure out what this image was.  Then he smiled and began to understand, “Chorsia....” 

 

“Do you know what this is James?” 

 

He nodded, “the weather on Chorsia is horrible, it rains for days, weeks even.  But every now and again the clouds break and the sky above becomes visible for a little while.  When it happens, people come out onto the streets and up onto the roofs of the buildings, to enjoy the view and celebrate the event in the dry air.  This is what you see when it happens at night, the two moons of Chorsia above you.” 

 

Roz nodded, “well done James, It is an event I’ve never experienced, but while you painted, I did a little reading about the details, since you gave me some clues it was what you were painting. 

 

“I did?” 

 

She nodded and continued, “the entire system of Chosia is something of a sad story, a fragment of lost history....” 

 

James furled his brow, “how so?” 

 

“It is the administrative system for that entire sector of space, including Indraya, and it has been that way for over a thousand years....  It also used to contain a verdant, natural ecology and farming systems, feeding many other colonies, but then the Old Wars came....” 

 

“What happened?” 

 

“No one is quite sure if it was a natural event, accidental or even triggered by some form of attack, but the climate collapsed, and the rains began.  They covered the planet, drawing up half of the oceans into the atmosphere and dredging the land in continual rains.  Millions died in the resulting floods as they destroyed entire cities and other population centres, while the eco-system also collapsed, through the lack of direct sunlight and unending rain....” 

 

Roz looked up to the sky, “thankfully, there was some relief for the eco-systems.  One of the moons was undergoing a process of terraforming, to boost the farming and food production of Chorsia, but the decision was made to transform it into a vast nature reserve.  As many samples as possible were taken and they were released there, resulting in the forest green moon you see above Chorsia today.  A museum to the history of the planet itself....” 

 

James looked up at the sky himself, “Chorsia now is a barren world, pockmarked by massive super-cities, between a maze of seas, lakes and rivers, right?” 

 

Roz nodded, “that’s right.  It looks fairly uninviting from orbit, shrouded beneath clouds that ring the planet and only offer occasional glimpses of the planet beneath.  But it remains a busy hub for the administrations of everything, from governments to corporations, all tied together by an army of diplomats and ambassadors overseeing the whole sector.  The rocky moon and its orbiting base are the transfer station for shipping and the forest moon remains a nature reserve, with strict limits on visits....” 

 

James gazed at the picture, “I think I had a ticket to visit it?  If I were going to publish my work, maybe I was planning to hide out there for a little while?” 

 

Roz carefully asked, “do you have any other memories of the planet?” 

 

James closed his eyes and considered, “only vague thoughts and images, not much more.  The only real thing was the rain, the way it kept coming, never stopping....  I lived there for a few years and in all that time it stopped raining for only a few weeks in total.” 

 

Roz looked at him, “I thought my world was bad enough through the sheer humidity, but the idea of it never stopping raining?  That’s incredible to think about.” 

 

James looked at her, glazing over slightly, “just thinking about it....  I was laid there, on the floor, between the two buildings, the pain racing around my body, but looking up at the rain as it fell, kept falling....  I knew I was dead, but the rain kept my mind focused, kept me awake as it fell on my form, refused to let me sleep.”  Roz added these details to her notes as James decided, “I’m here because of the rain....  If I had passed out before they found me, if I had slept, the doctors at the hospital would never have let me donate.  I owe this existence to the rain....” 

 

Roz smiled, mulling over his comments, “You’ve made some real progress with your mind, haven’t you?” 

 

“In what way?” 

 

“Since you came back to us, you’ve had a new focus, a new drive.  It’s like you’re a new person James, more aware of who and what you are now, more willing to make peace with the past.” 

 

He looked at her, “I think I can make peace with history, but only if the people that brought me here are made to face the consequences of their actions....” 

 

“That’s understandable.” 

 

He was a little taken aback, “it is?” 

 

Roz looked at him and the painting, “it wasn’t really your free choice to donate your memory to an Evotar, you were forced into it as a last chance of life for some part of you.  I had the choice, as did most of the rest of us.  You didn’t James and you have a right to be upset about that.” 

 

He looked around at the surroundings of the courtyard and took a seat on the edge of the fountain.  Gazing into the water and seeing his reflection staring back at him, “it’s so peaceful and tranquil here, yet I’m destroying that by saying I’m out to seek revenge for my own situation....” 

 

Roz joined him, taking a place next to him and replying, “the location doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you’ve taken several more steps today, James.  You’ve revealed more of your memories and thoughts, not just to me, to yourself....  It didn’t matter if you did that on a therapy couch, or in front of a painting, you’ve now realised what your current goals are?” 

 

He thought about her comments, “I didn’t really consider it before....  So far, up to now, I’ve been forced into my action by others and the circumstances around me at the time.  It’s only now I look at where we are currently, and I agree.  This is probably the first time I have got the choice to choose my own future, where I go from here....”  He grinned at the painting, “it’s exhilarating, having that freedom to choose what ‘I’ want to do, what to experience and learn about myself.” 

 

Roz smiled, “it is an amazing feeling, isn’t it?” 

 

He looked at Roz, “I always thought this process would be about regimented sessions of therapy and a strict management of my life by you, until I was ready to stand on my own two feet?” 

 

Roz beamed back, “that’s not Guiding at all....  We just help you learn the truth about yourself and help you adapt to the massive changes you’ve undergone to become an Evotar.”  She giggled, “besides, as soon as you left that tunnel and entered the Vermillion Wastes, there was no way any sort of treatment like that would work with you.  You’ve made me tear up my manuals and totally rethink how to be a Guide James.” 

 

“Am I really that influential?” 

 

She nodded, “I don’t think I’ll ever have another situation like this, that is so unique....” 

 

“Is that a good, or a bad thing?” 

 

“Very much good,” she smiled, “we must constantly learn and adapt to be the best Guides we can be.  Every new experience is as useful for us as it seems to be for you.” 

 

James was about to answer, but Roz’s D-Link chimed, and she checked it, “bonta, is that the time already?” 

 

“What’s wrong?” 

 

“We don’t have much time before we’re due at Luke’s....  We better make an effort, before we end up going like we are and totally underdressed!” 

 

James started to gather up the painting equipment and noted, “I think I’d like to keep this painting Roz.  Can I see about getting it framed and hung in my room?” 

 

“Si, of course.  We’ll get it scanned now as we return the painting equipment, then we can prepare for the party, I’m quite looking forward to it....” 

 

James mused, “so am I....  It’s probably going to be my first real date with Terrani.” 

 

“I’m sure she’s looking forward to it as much as you are James,” Roz noted, as she gathered up the last few pieces of the painting equipment and they set off together to return it to the studio.... 

 

---------- 

 

It was as busy as it was the last time he was here.  James stepped away from Homestedt Landmark to find that Reece was already here and had staked out a small patch by the wall to the Trader’s Area.   He looked rather dapper in his smart outfit and was clearly happy when he spotted James.  He waved him over while saying, “glad to see you made it, James.” 

 

He returned the greeting, “good evening, Reece.  Are we the first to arrive?” 

 

Reece smiled, “there’s a tradition for special events like this, all the ladies will arrive together.  They meet up separately to come here.”   

 

He nodded in understanding, “I’m just glad I got my choice of outfit correct, Roz gave me an idea of how to dress for this, but she didn’t give me a clue about everything…. 

 

Reece laughed, “you look perfect,” he noted.  “In reality, we don’t have many outfit options for smart appearances, but you’ve done a great job, the ladies have far more choice….” 

 

James had picked pants and shoes that were similar to the ones he wore when he came for his first meal, but this time he had chosen a very different style of shirt, which was white with a smart, green pinstripe, while he also had decided to wear an open, green waistcoat with it, choosing a simple, smart headgear design to complete the look.  He had even figured out how to add a pocket square to the waistcoat, as well as a simple, silver wristband on his left wrist. 

 

Reece grinned, “they’ll be here soon no doubt, and you just watch….” 

 

“What for?” 

 

He waved his hand around, “everyone is going to notice.”  He felt a little exposed momentarily, but Reece calmed him, “it’s traditional for them to be noticed like that.  It’s like a little game of Who’s- Who?” 

 

He furled his brow, “so there’s going to be a scene when they arrive?” 

 

“….  And they’ll enjoy it too.” 

 

James looked around, suddenly aware that he was going to be spotted too, but he was thrilled that Terrani would be part of this show.  In fact, he was really excited to see how she would be dressed for the celebration…. 

 

For several minutes they watched as different individuals and small groups arrived on the pad and moved aside to greet others waiting in this little area.  They were all spending time chatting and noting the arrival of others as their social gatherings formed, but James was growing somewhat more nervous as the numbers of Avatars here continued to grow. 

 

The pad activated again and three figures began to form, Reece instantly moved forward and indicated James had better do the same.  “This is them,” he hinted. 

 

James watched as Luzee, Roz and Terrani took shape and stepped off of the pads.  They were all wearing cocktail dresses, Luzee’s was quite short in length and she had covered her shoulders in a matching Hexacast cloak, while her headgear was reduced to little more than her earrings, while Roz was dressed in a long, shimmering blue dress with a white jacket and matching accessories, highlighting the engagement ring on her finger and leaving the only clue to her class being the colours and the neck covering she always wore.  Both of them had let their hair fall loose down their back. 

 

James now focused on Terrani as she walked towards him, the smile very obvious on her face.  Her dress was knee-length and toned in a muted orange with some floral, white detailing in the fabric.  She had paired it with a light, short-jacket and more toned jewellery that matched the faded yellow of her eyes, while she had tied her long hair and held it in place with two plaits that extended from under her Pentafist wings and looped together, before draping down her back.   

 

The ladies walked towards them and James could see every pair of eyes watching them do so, it was clear they all knew this was a special occasion.  Roz led them all and she extended her hand out to Reece as she reached him.  He responded by leaning forward and kissing the engagement ring on her finger, before they exchanged pleasantries and a more traditional hug and kiss. 

 

The others all gave a warm noise of appreciation and James heard one of the other men say, “it’s about time Reece....  Congratulations.” 

 

He looked up, “thank you, Junice....” 

 

The voice replied, “I hope he proposed somewhere nice Roz?” 

 

She grinned and looked Reece in the eyes, “si, he did,” she answered. 

 

Now Terrani came over to James and she wrapped herself into his arms while giving him a small, sweet kiss.  “Good evening,” she began, “I hope you’ve had a good day?” 

 

He embraced her, “it’s even better now, you look stunning.” 

 

“I knew you’d like it.” 

 

They broke the hug and turned to the others, staying close and linked arm-in-arm, while Reece started leading them past Satoshi’s mansion and into the area of Homestedt behind it, where Lukes was located. 

 

James felt rather self-conscious as they passed everyone, every pair of eyes locked on the group of them as they walked by, but Terrani reassured him, staying close to him and making it very obvious that they were together because they wanted to be, not because she was being courteous. 

 

They finished their walk and arrived at Lukes, entering the building to find him busying around among the clientele.  He noted their arrival at the door and broke from his activities to approach, “Ah, congratulations Reece, Roz....” 

 

They nodded their appreciation for his well-wishes, Reece replying, “thank you Luke.” 

 

Luke started leading them through the restaurant, “If you come this way, please?” 

 

They all followed him, through the main restaurant and to a secluded rear area. This area was new to James and it looked like Luke had given them a celebratory table, away from everyone else and in a private section. 

 

The table he showed them to was decorated with flowers and gave a happy, peaceful, but celebratory atmosphere, while there was only one other, small table here, at which Lea and Toby were sat themselves.  As James entered the room, he found them already stood and clapping for Reece and Roz and they both came forward to give them hugs and handshakes.  Lea then went on to hug each of them, including James as she passed. 

 

Eventually, they broke and returned to their own table, while Roz asked them, “who told you?” 

 

Toby admitted, “we were already planning to eat here and have a catch-up, I hadn’t seen Lea since before the memorial and I don’t disturb anyone in the private villa, it’s theirs to enjoy without my meddling.  It was only when Luke told us we were not eating alone and he started preparing the table, did we find out the news.  So, we decided we would wait and celebrate with you.  Is that okay?” 

 

Roz and Reece both nodded, Roz telling them, si, of course it is.” 

 

[I am so happy for the pair of you, but you’ve been together for so long, it felt like you were already married!] 

 

The room gave a happy laugh as they all took their seats at their tables, James making sure he held Terrani’s chair, before he sat next to her and Roz, and openly held Terrani’s hand on the table, which she gripped firmly and smiled warmly for everyone to see. 

 

The conversations remained happy and jovial for quite a while as they all studied the menu on offer, before Luke came forward to take the orders, prompting Roz to gently remind James, “you should be getting to the point where you can choose pretty freely....” 

 

He nodded, “I know, but I’m not going to chance it tonight.  The occasion doesn’t need that happening, so I’ll be sensible.” 

 

Terrani smiled and asked him, “can I choose then. I have a great idea and I know you’ll enjoy it, James?” 

 

He gazed into her yellow eyes, “of course you can.” 

 

She smiled and put her menu down, before looking at Luke.  “We’ll have the pea and mint soup, followed by vegetable korma, please.” 

 

Luke moved on, allowing the others to select their choices, which included Lea and Toby, and Luke hastened off to set the wheels of the restaurant into motion, leaving them all alone a moment and letting the conversations begin.  Lea was typing away to Toby and he was laughing in reply, while Luzee, Roz and Reece were jovially chatting about something themselves, leaving Terrani with James a moment.  She asked, “are you having a good time?” 

 

He gripped her hand tighter, “it’s lovely.  In reality, it’s our first real date.” 

 

She giggled in reply, “in many ways it is, isn’t it?” 

 

“I know we’ve been together before, but this is different....” 

 

Terrani grinned, “it’s because we’ve finally admitted our feelings for each other and we both know it was time to be honest about it.”  She looked a little saddened. “I honestly thought you were never coming back; I couldn’t hold my feelings back any longer.” 

 

He looked back at her, “I heard the emotion in your voice, the way you blamed yourself for me being like that, the way you were convinced you were cursed....  None of it is true,” and to prove the point, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. 

 

She smiled, “I know....  It was just the raw emotion of seeing you like that, it was haunting.” 

 

“For you and me both.  I tried to hug you, willing my body to move, but I just couldn’t do it, no matter how much I tried....  But you did save me in your own way.” 

 

“I did, how,” she asked, genuinely curious?” 

 

“It was like a timer in my head, and it ran out when Bel’ came.  If he had taken me to the clinic there was no way back, because no one had enough hope anymore.  But you saved me by convincing Bel’ to let me go with you to the Trust Meeting, that little extra time with you was the answer.” 

 

“I really helped you overcome your problems?” 

 

He nodded, happy to be quietly disclosing his memories to her, “it was weird, I somehow ended up fighting with another part of myself, the pair of us having to work together to resolve the real threat in the darkness.  It nearly won so many times, wracking me with pain that I struggled to handle....” 

 

“Pain, you experienced pain?” 

 

He nodded, “it was uncontrollable at times, but it’s gone now, never to return.  I’ll never forget it though, watching memories reform and learning more about my past.” 

 

“What about the other part of yourself?” 

 

“You mean Te’keek?” 

 

Terrani gave him a very odd look, “Te’keek, as in, that N.P.C. Shad in the Marshes?” 

 

James nodded, “for some reason, that other half of me took on his form and voice, I still cannot fathom why?” 

 

Terrani smiled and joked, “it could have been worse, it could have been me!” 

 

James looked into her eyes, “you were there, a key piece of the puzzle that left me trapped.” 

 

She gave him a surprised look, “how was I there?” 

 

My memories manifested by making shapes and recollections out of the mist that was always in the background where I was trapped,” he stopped and thought.  “Now I think about it, it was like how I see my memories when I meditate, shapes and figures hiding in the mist and gloom, occasionally appearing enough to allow me to recover more....”  He smiled at her, “but you were like a ray of bright light, helping me see what I needed to see.” 

 

“I’m just so happy I was able to help you, even if I didn’t know it....” 

 

He looked across the table, “you all did, not just you, and I need to explain to Shizuka about why I said thank you to her.” 

 

Terrani gave him a confused expression, “I didn’t understand that....”  James explained how she had said the key fragment that it took for him to realise the missing detail and she raised her eyebrows, “so all of your memories were missing detail, and she told you to look for it?” 

 

“Hm,” he nodded, “I was also missing the detail with you, your form was a key part of all of it.”  He lowered his voice, “it’s how I figured out about your memory, that the identity of Krait was right there, and I had missed it all this time.” 

 

“I never understood how the mind works, or the fact that it can affect you in such ways,” she lowered her own voice and looked a little nervous, “but then....” 

 

James looked around the table and squeezed her hand, “you don’t need to say anymore, not now....” 

 

She smiled and leaned in, resting her head on his shoulder and they shared a little close contact, while Roz noticed them and asked, “are you two, okay?” 

 

James smiled and nodded, “I was just explaining what happened, Terrani was interested.” 

 

Roz smiled at her, “it’s quite a tale, isn’t it?” 

 

Terrani smiled, “it sure is, and it makes you think, it could happen to any of us if something detrimental occurred?” 

 

Luzee smiled at the pair of them, “I’ve been waiting for you two to be open like this.  You look so happy together.” 

 

Terrani lifted her head back from James’ shoulder and grinned, “it might not have happened in the way I wanted, but it was the right time to be honest.” 

 

James agreed, “I’m happy we’re not being so clandestine anymore.  It feels great to be out in the open about our feelings.” 

 

Lea typed, [It must have been difficult to see him like that Terrani?] 

 

Terrani nodded, “I really thought he wasn’t coming back....” 

 

Luke reappeared in the private area as Lea nodded in agreement, with several others behind him, all bringing their starters to the table.  Roz and Reece had a platter of prepared, roasted vegetables and breads to share, all with a selection of dips, Luzee had chosen a seafood platter with bread, while Lea was having a soup and Toby had chosen a small plate of cheese and charcuterie. 

 

One of the waitresses brought James and Terrani their soups, while Luke busied about and poured them all a drink.  As he passed James and poured his glass, he gave him a little warning, “this isn’t just sparkling water this time, you better just take small sips.” 

 

James thanked Luke for the little warning and Toby raised his glass.  “To Roz and Reece,” he announced as a toast and the others all raised their glasses and copied his call.  Then they all took a sip and James discovered it was not only sparkling, it packed a heady wine kick and filled his senses with a bubbly, joyous sensation.  His memory flared and for a second and he phased out.  Roz saw his reaction and carefully watched him, seeing what the others had missed, before he came back and smiled warmly. 

 

As she started to make a little selection from her platter, she quietly asked, “what did you see then James?” 

 

Terrani looked up from taking the first taste of her soup, “he saw something then?” 

 

James looked at Roz and then Terrani, before putting the glass down, “it was the Instant Water, it had such a strong, sparkling wine hit.” 

 

Terrani looked at him curiously, “it’s not alcoholic or anything?” 

 

“But the taste is there and that’s what made me recall something....” 

 

The others had not really noticed, so Roz gently asked, “what did you recall?” 

 

“I was back at the fancy event, in front of the orchestra.  Whoever I did meet, I was with them, sharing a quaff of the real thing....” 

 

“Just that” 

 

He nodded at Roz, “that’s it.  It was just a flash and gone, but I did see it long enough to figure out what it was.” 

 

Terrani looked at him and asked, “are you okay to carry on, we can have a minute if you need it?” 

 

James waved his hand and took his spoon, “no, I’m fine, honestly....  The smell of the soup is making me feel really hungry.” 

 

Roz grinned, “in that case, tuck in and enjoy.” 

 

James carefully drew a small quantity of the soup and tasted it while Terrani watched, waiting for the reaction.  At first, he got little feedback from the taste, bar a slight spice taste. but then the refreshing mint aftertaste rushed into his mouth and he grinned, “that’s amazing again.  The mint is so strong.” 

 

Roz grinned, “since it’s not really a taste you’ve experienced before, it’s likely to be accentuated for these first few mouthfuls.” 

 

James took another taste and saw that, like the tomato soup, this had been served with another piece of buttered toast, so he sampled it with another taste of the soup and the bread made everything flare again, resulting in him enjoying the meal even more., while the others all took their time and savoured the food on offer. 

 

The chat remained happy and cordial as James slowly enjoyed the soup, the others making their own way through their dishes.  Lea listened to Toby relay some story and was smiling and laughing, while Roz and Reece were happily sharing their platter and offering each other small samples to taste, along with their own creations, and Luzee was chatting to Terrani, asking her about her plans for the upcoming events before the vote.  Luzee asked, “do you think Luke is genuine with the idea of helping out with your campaign?” 

 

Terrani swallowed her latest sip of her soup and replied, “I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t?” 

 

Luzee shrugged, “he seems happy enough.  And no doubt he’s pleased that Lea is back.” 

 

Terrani nodded, “we all are, let's be honest.” 

 

Luzee smiled and took another mouthful of her seafood, “I just never expected to be part of the rescue party….” 

 

Both James and Terrani giggled, James replying, “neither did I.  Weird how things have worked out, isn’t it?” 

 

Lea paused eating to type to them, [when you appeared, I really thought I was in more trouble, especially since I’d been in there over a day.] 

 

James looked up at her, “I thought you were going to attack me there and then….  In that darkness, you looked menacing Lea.” 

 

They all shared a little laugh and finished their starters.  Then Toby asked, “Were you hurt at all Lea, no one ever explained it fully to me?” 

 

Lea shook her head and typed, [They just kept me there, I think they knew there was no point trying to hurt me?] 

 

Toby was intrigued, “did you know any of them that were there with you?” 

 

[Not at the time, but I later found out that Pnkayz was one of them, she went by the name of Diamondback, until James found me.] 

 

Toby inputted something into his interface, tapped a few commands and closed it again, before returning to his starter and taking the last few bites, before he cleared his plate and the others began to wrap up their dishes.  James finished his soup and smiled at Terrani, telling her, “good choice.” 

 

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?  And it’s a warming palette cleanser before the main course too.” 

 

He looked at her with a few nerves visible, “I’m just nervous of the spice….” 

 

Terrani smiled and took a sip of her drink, before taking his hand in hers and comforting him, “I wouldn’t have picked it if it was going to be strong.  It will be a big hit, since you’ll still be learning about spices in your taste, but this is a really, really mild curry.  It’s delicious too.” 

 

He decided that she was not going to make him regret eating something at an event like this, so he just nodded his head and let the conversations flow, while sipping a little of his drink. 

 

Luke returned with his staff to clean away the plates from the starter course and Terrani quickly waved him over, James could hear some words being whispered between the two of them and ‘planning’ was one of them, Luke nodded and continued clearing the table before telling them all, “the mains are being prepared; they should not take too much longer.” 

 

Roz and Reece nodded their agreement as he left, before Roz asked Terrani, “why did you settle on the vegetable korma tonight, I know you love you chicken one?” 

 

Terrani replied, “normally I would, but I just fancied the vegetable version tonight.” 

 

Roz shrugged and smiled, “at least you didn’t go for the hot and spicy alternatives.  Although the sight of your date running around the room with his mouth on fire would have been funny….” 

 

James grinned, “maybe for you, not for me,” although he did feel better now Roz had confirmed that this was a very mild curry. 

 

Toby had returned to quietly chatting with Lea, with Reece and Roz discussing something else and Luzee making funny comments at it.  Terrani kept her hand locked with James and looked at him, “having a nice time?” 

 

“Since the Trust Meeting, it’s been nothing but a joyous and relaxing experience.  I’ve not felt so eased and happy since I first arrived.  Even the mist feels like it’s backed off a little and is not forcing itself into the foreground.  I can recall more as I want to, not pressured into unwanted events….”  He waved his free hand, “and this is just awesome.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so welcomed into anywhere,” then he looked at the sweet face of the woman whose hand he was holding and finished quietly, “or loved….” 

 

Terrani confessed, “I never went to that first Trust Meeting, knowing I was going to meet you, or how I would feel about you.  But you just made such an impression on me….” 

 

“How did I make an impression on you?” 

 

“You were just sweet, honest, and totally confused.  But through it all, you were yourself.  I think that is what appealed to me more than anything else, you were not hiding behind a mask, or trying to act different, you were just you. 

 

“So, are you saying you wanted to be polite and introduce yourself…?” 

 

She cut him off, “yes.  I wanted to get to know you, I was curious and wanted to be friendly.” 

 

He looked at her and admitted, “It was only when you sat next to me that very first time and I got to see your eyes, that was the first moment I realised I had feelings for you.” 

 

Terrani smiled, “I suspected you did, especially when you turned away and tried to be shy.” 

 

“You noticed that?” 

 

She grinned, “it was hard not to notice it, but it just made me happy.” 

 

He lifted her hand off of the table and kissed the back of it.  “Still feeling happy,” he asked? 

 

“I haven’t felt so happy in a long time....” 

 

They kept their hands locked as Luke and his team returned, carrying the mains and a second bottle of the fizz with them.  Luke carried a massive vegetable pizza for Reece and Roz to share, Lea and Luzee looked like they had picked a chicken casserole dish, while Toby had a different variation of curry. 

 

One of the waiters bought Terrani and James their own curries and James found the scent alone was creating a party in his head.  The main curry had also been served with naan bread, chapatis and a few side dips, along with a small side bowl of rice, giving him plenty of flavours to mix and savour.  Terrani gave him a few words, “there’s no chilli heat, but the curry spices will still be a huge hit.  It’s all amazing, but just take your time.” 

 

He took the advice and began with a small sample of the rice, and was amazed it was spiced with cinnamon and onion, and the cinnamon was an intense punch as he carefully chewed and swallowed.  He could only manage one word, “wow!” 

 

Roz checked on him, “is it a strong taste?” 

 

James shook his head, “no, it’s amazing....” 

 

Terrani grinned, “just eat slowly then, I’ll keep pace with you.” 

 

James nodded and gambled on a piece of the vegetable curry.  Just smelling it made him feel giddy from the reaction of his senses, but when he tasted it, all he could feel was the curry spice and the texture of the vegetable in the background.  For a minute he chewed carefully, letting his senses learn and adapt and the sensation eased. 

 

Terrani asked, “did you enjoy that?” 

 

He nodded back, “it’s just incredible.  It’s delicious, but it’s difficult to take it all in.” 

 

“It will settle down now,” Roz reassured him. 

 

“I know it will, but the sensation is going to take some time to get over.” 

 

The others had pressed on with their meals, but Terrani and Roz kept a gentle pace with James, making sure he didn’t feel left behind as his senses adapted to the curry and spices on offer.  He kept going and didn’t give up at any point as the meal tasted better and better, the further he got through it and the more his senses changed,   

 

The others all tucked in and enjoyed their own servings, while James kept his pace and slowly savoured every mouthful, every new taste sensation on offer, and before he knew it, the meal was completed.  His plate was empty and Roz and Terrani finished with him, all three of them taking a swig of their drink as a final flourish. 

 

The others had also finished and they were all continuing to chat, laugh and celebrate the occasion.  Reece was telling some joke to them all as Luke came forward to collect the plates again.  “Was that all good,” he asked as his staff cleared the tables? 

 

They all nodded, but Terrani called him over and quietly asked, “can we have a chat when we’re finished, please?” 

 

Luke nodded, “of course.  I assume this about the trust?” 

 

Terrani smiled in reply, “yes, and I want to see about working together to host some events?” 

 

“Then I’ll talk to you afterwards.  I’m sure there’s a few events we can arrange?” 

 

Terrani gave him her thanks and returned to the conversations at the table, where Luzee was making the others laugh with some tales of her Moderation duties and the celebrations continued.  Reece had clearly heard the story before and was enjoying listening along and contributing certain voices, while the others were all laughing and smiling.  James just adored the sense of happiness and security he felt.  All of them thought of him as an equal, not a newcomer and he was holding the hand of one of them, able to turn his head and look into her eyes.  He couldn’t understand how he was so lucky? 

 

“What are you thinking about,” Terrani asked, clearly seeing his gaze and expression? 

 

He smiled, “I’m just sitting, relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere….  For the first time, I’m starting to accept this as my new home.  I’m not a newcomer anymore…. 

 

Terrani leaned in and gave him a kiss, “no, you’re right where you should be, with me.” 

 

They shared a small kiss and a hug, in full view of everyone else, making Toby comment something to Lea, and Lea nodded her head in reply, confirming they were becoming an item.  Toby picked up his glass and toasted them as a result, congratulating Terrani and James, who returned the toast in thanks. 

 

Luke led his team back in and they were carrying a group dessert.  He had prepared an iced cake, decorated with two interlinked squares, and he placed it on the table to allow Reece and Roz to make the initial cut, before it was sliced up and offered to every member of the party.  James was excited by the cake, eager to taste the excessive sweetness that was on offer. 

 

He received his piece and was offered a scoop of ice cream as an accompaniment, which he happily accepted.  Roz gave him a very real warning that taking very small samples would necessary at first and even Terrani was not rushing, looking at her serving with a real sense of caution.  “Is this intense,” he asked her? 

 

She nodded, “none of us have food this sweet very often.  My own senses will be tested, so you’ll have to be really careful.” 

 

He nodded and took a very small corner of the dessert onto his spoon, before gently placing it into his mouth.  The sensation was like being kicked as the sheer belt of sugar overtook him and he chewed and swallowed as carefully as he could.  He watched the others do the same, as the euphoria of taste declined.  “That’s an even bigger hit than the curry,” he admitted. 

 

Terrani grinned, “now you understand why the first meal is such a neutral, light experience.” 

 

He nodded as he carefully took another piece onto his spoon, “I would never have managed to eat this then....” 

 

Roz swallowed her latest mouthful and admitted, “I hate these desserts myself, but it’s the tradition that we serve them for celebrations like this.  That’s why the cake isn’t so big, no one needs a massive piece.” 

 

James nodded and ate another piece of the cake, swilling it down with a swig of his drink.  He was stunned it was the sweetness that was the thing nearly overwhelming him, out of the entire meal.  Even repeated mouthfuls only dulled the sensation slightly and they all took some time to finally finish the treat, before they all finished their drinks as a final toast to Reece and Roz. 

 

With the meal finished, they all rose to leave the restaurant and Luke was there to see them off.  “Thank you for the visit, I hope you all enjoyed the meal?” 

 

Reece and Roz paused to thank him personally, Roz giving him a big hug as her thanks, while Reece shook his hand, then the others took their turns with the thanks, while James hung back with Terrani who was clearly trying to be the last the leave.  She hugged him and asked, “can we have a quick discussion about setting a few dates for meetings and such?” 

 

“Of course,” Luke confirmed and they spent five minutes looking at their diaries, before settling on a few dates.  Luke seemed happy to be helping out and told her he’d handle getting everything ready to run the events here.  Terrani was clearly grateful as she shook his hand and set everything in motion, before she returned to James and held his hand as she led him out, back into the light of Homestedt. 

 

The others were gathered around and chatting in discussion while they waited and Terrani quickly asked Roz, “can myself and James have a few minutes on the bench outside Satoshi’s?” 

 

“Of course,” she confirmed, “but no revelations this time, si,” joking about the last time they were sat there? 

 

Terrani grinned, nodded and led James back to the bench, expecting them to catch up in no time.  They took their seats and Terrani leaned in for a hug, asking him, “have you had a good time?” 

 

“It's been great, I’ve just enjoyed the atmosphere, the food, and especially the company.” 

 

“It’s lovely you’ve had a chance to just be part of the festivities, especially with everything still hanging over us.” 

 

He nodded, “and tomorrow, we’re back to it....” 

 

“You mean, with your progression?” 

 

“I’m not just going back out there for myself, I’m looking for Rizuno, I want him to answer as to why he’s Krait?” 

 

Terrani looked at him, “is that the only reason why you’re determined to press on?” 

 

He wrapped her in his arms, “no it’s not.  I need to answer my own memories, fill in the gaps, and find the solutions.  I really think they thought I wasn’t here, that my memories might return.  They wanted me erased from the records, I can’t allow that to happen....” 

 

“What do you think is hidden?” 

 

He looked out over the pond, towards the statue of Lea, “I really think I have all my records stored, that I’ll recall a way to find them and recover everything they fear.  I won’t find a way to recover it sat at the Retreat, there’s only so much peace I can stomach.” 

 

Terrani sighed lightly, “I’m just nervous they’ll catch up with you?” 

 

“I understand that risk now, but I have to take that chance.  You don’t have to come along anymore?  I’ll walk the path alone if I have to, even Roz knows that now.” 

 

She kissed him on the cheek, “you’ll never be alone on this journey.  I love you and I promised I’d be with you, no matter how dark things get.  Besides, if this data is so important, it’s vital you recover it.” 

 

He turned his head, looked into her eyes and kissed her back, “I love you too, thank you.” 

 

“Just one thing....” 

 

“What’s that?” 

 

She grinned, “don’t keep anything from Roz this time!” 

 

They shared a little laughter together before he replied, “I know....  It’s a good job we have nothing to hide anymore, isn’t it?” 

 

She smiled, “I really thought she was done there and then....  That we wouldn’t be here now.” 

 

“Me too.  I never expected her to understand, or allow us to press on.” 

 

“Roz is stronger than you think.”  Terrani giggled, “that’s probably why it’s taken Reece eight years to muster up the courage to propose?” 

 

“It might take me longer.  You know that, right?” 

 

“I don’t mind....  I’m just happy for now, tomorrow will come around when it’s ready.  I don’t want you under Roz’s care forever....” 

 

He smiled, “just so long as I know you’re waiting for that day, I’ll make sure it comes.” 

 

They shared another hug and Roz came up to join them, Reece and Luzee in tow.  “Are we disturbing you,” she asked? 

 

Terrani shuffled into James, letting them all gather together around the bench.  “No,” she confirmed, “we’re just agreeing on a few things.” 

 

Roz smiled at them as she took her place on the bench, while Reece kneeled on the ground at her side and Luzee squatted next to Terrani.  It was Reece who asked, “no shocks this time, right?” 

 

James giggled to confirm there wasn’t, before Terrani admitted, “I was reaffirming the point that we’re pressing on together.  Wherever James has to go to recover his memory, I’ll be with him.” 

 

Luzee replied, “we all will be, and tomorrow we’re back in Port Imelda, aren’t we?” 

 

James looked into his quest logs, saying, “I haven’t had to check this in a while,” as he did so.  He took a moment before replying, “yes, according to these logs, I’m going looking for evidence of the Ghettotown Rats at the Rec District Precinct and trying to get into Yusan’s favour so I can get her aid to find their location.” 

 

Roz smiled, “that’s a busy day then.  How do you fancy being the final party member tomorrow Luzee?” 

 

“I’m looking forward to it already.  It’ll be nice to not sit in that break room and get out to do some fighting.” 

 

Reece looked at Terrani, “that’s me and you out doing the scouting....” 

 

Terrani replied, “that’s fine by me, I enjoy walking the Taurines.”  

 

“I’ll scout the city then,” he confirmed. 

 

They sat and soaked up the quiet for a moment, before Roz stood, “time for some rest James.  The next two days are going to be busy.” 

 

He kissed Terrani goodbye and stood alongside Roz, “I am tired, and I need to calm down a little.  That cake was so sweet, it’s still lingering on my sense of taste.” 

 

Roz nodded, “now you know why I don’t really like them.” 

 

Luzee wondered, “who did introduce cakes like that to our celebrations?” 

 

“I’ve got no idea,” Terrani confirmed.  “But whoever did, clearly didn’t enjoy celebrations!” 

 

They were all still laughing as James and Roz phased out and returned to the Retreat. 

Edited by Uncle Sikee Atric

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