The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph
The summer air was humid in the forests. Enne sat at a stump that overlooked the lower valley. Alejandro rested against a tree, observing Silesta gather her wavy hair into a single braid. The slime slept peacefully beside him. A bonfire lit the dark vicinity. The wanderer felt a sense of normalcy in the humble setting. Enne smiled when she felt his gaze.
“You know,” Enne said, shifting her head toward Silesta. “I didn’t think you knew how to braid hair.”
“I didn’t either,” she replied shyly.
“That sounds like symptoms of dissociation,” Alejandro chimed.
“And you seem to be infected with jerk, Allie,” Enne replied, seeing his poker face pass the small bonfire. “I kid! How do I look?”
The wanderer assessed her presentation. His heart was aflutter when their eyes met. Silesta gently sloughed the braid over Enne’s shoulder. A warm feeling swelled when he thought about Enne’s amicable relationship with Silesta. Despite not knowing who she was, Enne looked after her like a mother. Alejandro chuckled as he lay his head against the tree. His reaction brought a sense of confusion to them.
“What was that?” she asked.
“What more can I say?” he replied.
“Is—Is this your idea of affirmation?”
“How do you describe something beyond words?”
“Pfft! Come on. That was such a cheap pivot!”
“Is that his way of saying you’re beautiful?” Silesta raised an eyebrow. Enne sighed and nodded. “I think it was nice… In his own way.”
“Yeah!” Alejandro agreed. “This is a love language meant for you!”
“Are you familiar with the French way of love?” Enne grinned.
“What—What does that even mean?”
Enne? Al? Are you two in range? A familiar voice crackled through her earbud. Enne’s ears wiggled from the unfamiliar frequency.
“Mikail?” she replied, glimpsing Alejandro as he sat up. “How’s everything? We… Aren’t too far from the base.”
Yeah, change of plans… We’ve decided to go for the jugular. We’ll meet in the north and go from there.
Alejandro and Enne exchanged glances as she listened. Enne couldn’t withhold her surprise at the sudden course change.
Yeah… It’s another day’s travel. Extendo and Salem already went back to the city. They’ll inform the others.
“You had cells in the city?”
Extendo isn’t just arming both sides. He’s been spreading the word. I just hope this is enough to get one over on these bastards. Well… Safe travels. It’s gonna be a long trek.
“All right, you too.”
The static faded as she looked at Alejandro. He winced before she spoke. What he heard surprised him just as much as Enne. Meanwhile, the small squadron moved through the beaten trails in a fanned-out formation. The bandit’s presence was light, but the Ethoxian’s flyovers often gave them pause. Raquel eyed the passing airship, a transport ship that could hold a few pieces of equipment. Mikail brushed against her as it disappeared over the trees. His face was covered in sweat.
“Are you sure about this?” Raquel asked.
“I think we’ll be fine,” he whispered.
“Right in time for their celebration?”
“They wouldn’t see us coming… Not with the losses we incurred.”
What’s the holdup? McCreary spoke through their earpiece.
“Don’t rush this, you guys,” Raquel sighed. “We can’t afford to bungle this. Not with the support we have from that elf.”
You really don’t like her.
“The bitch is a smart-ass.”
“But she’s on our side,” Mikail chimed. “Elf or not—”
“Enough with your rainbow coalition jargon. We need results, Mikail. We could screw this up and it would be the end of us.”
Oi, stand down. We got a patrol.
Everyone hid behind cover. The dinky relics drove through with loud mufflers. Raquel thought this strange since they’d usually patrol with hover bikes. They waited until they were out of sight. Raquel and Mikail locked eyes while the engines roared off into the distance.
“Proceed,” Mikail spoke before turning to the wanderer.
“You never answered my question from before,” she said. It took a moment for him to process it. Her icy glare reminded him quickly, however. “Alejandro killed your uncle, but—”
“Why did I choose to spare him? Well…”
McCreary remained silent.
“I knew him. He was a good man who put his life on the line for others. Just like yourself.”
“I’ve always heard stories… From you, especially.”
“He was a good friend. For him to have died that night… That was a damned injustice and one that son of a bitch has to pay for.”
“Maybe… We don’t share that same feeling.”
Raquel winced and shook her head. Mikail led her through the path and crossed the broken road. They walked down the slope. The skies lacked patrols, allowing them an easy passage. It would be hours before they reached their destination. Mikail knew Raquel would nag to no end.
“You’ve known him personally,” he continued. “Where I’ve heard about his feats. It’s a nice feeling to know what he did, but even as you say, sometimes, context is important. That woman, Enne… She feels strongly about him. She, herself, is a good person too.”
“You both are naïve,” she shot her response.
“And that’s fine. This whole conflict didn’t start with me. It was handed to me. That’s about as complicated as I’ll let it be. Why am I gonna hate someone I’ve never met? He’s done nothing—”
“Except kill your uncle? He’s part of the reason you’re out here!”
“What if that would’ve happened, anyway? Think about it. Things went to hell after he died. Sure. He kept the peace, but it doesn’t look like he did anything else.”
“You watch your fucking mouth!”
“Or what? You’re going to scold me more? Come on, Raq—”
“Don’t talk to me so goddamn casually. I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive!”
“And that might be the problem.”
“You can’t keep holding onto the past. I’m not my uncle and never will be. We might fight for the same things, but I do it because… Well…”
Raquel awaited his response. The answer was obvious to both. Mikail leaned against a tree and observed his fellow rebels cautiously descend. Much may not return tonight, but like so many others before them, they fought for what they believed in.
“In some way, we’re always carrying on the will of the past. But it’s for us to redefine it.”
He looked over his shoulder to find the wanderer’s curious expression.
“You said that to him when he first got involved. When he nearly lost everything in the first few battles. It was you and Alejandro who helped him. And now you two are helping me.”
A gentle wind marked their silence. Raquel delivered a slight nod. The voice in the earpiece crackled.
You two. McCreary said. There’s a report of a significant presence going up north. Some gunships too.
“North?” Raquel repeated. “What happened up there?”
Seems like an Ethoxian patrol was taken down by… something.
“Something, huh?” Mikail smiled.
Raquel didn’t have to question what he was alluding to.
* * *
Janus and Crescendo arrived at the eastern base. Much rebuilding still had to be done after Enne’s escape. The base was more staffed than usual after receiving their shipment from the Ethoxian Republic. They were well-armed with better equipment than before. Janus knew the bullets were laced with draco-glass. The shipment arrived for his pet project. He’d awaken the androids soon as he anticipated Enne’s arrival. He stepped onto a platform that began lowering. They continued down the vast hall until he reached the other end. When the doors opened, Cire stood beside several pods. The resting machines were frozen in time with stabilized vitals of their inner workings on Her purple kimono contrasted against the monotonous setting. She glanced at each of them before turning to Janus.
“Miss Bouvire?” Janus stammered. He looked to Crescendo. “Can you give us a moment?”
“No,” she replied. “He can stay. It’s nice to see an old friend.”
“Eh, hey… Cire,” Crescendo bowed slightly.
“This base is busier than usual,” she continued.
“Well, the celebration isn’t until tomorrow. What brings you here?”
“I felt like looking around. A change in pace, so Kathryn says. I hope that’s not a problem.”
“N—no! Eh, I can expedite arrangements sooner.”
“No need. A simple room is fine. The extravagance isn’t something I came for. You’ve lost control of the situation since we last spoke. I’ve never seen anyone scramble anything this fast.”
Janus nodded before stepping forward. Cire returned her attention to the capsules.
“I think I can turn that around,” Janus said.
“You know… These are based on the machines they tried to kill my mother with. It wasn’t nearly as effective as they thought. They’re versatile and durable but make for a poor weapon against powerful beings.”
“They have no real check on me. Even your little draco-glass couldn’t pierce my skin.”
“Then—Why don’t you take advantage of that?”
Cire glimpsed her reflection. Ever melancholic, the answers were clear. Power was a gift and a curse. Her fingers gently tapped the capsule’s glass surface. The human-like figure remained in sleep mode.
“It would be so easy,” she finally spoke. “Everyone wants power, but to what end?”
She looked over her shoulder, finding a befuddled Janus. He seemed to be aghast by her response.
“You and I… Are from different worlds. Not only by where we’ve lived but by what we’ve experienced. For myself, power has been used as a tool to oppress and destroy. It has been used to ruin countless generations with a pen stroke. The system we know has failed, yet only those who want their place want to remain. Who wouldn’t?”
“Is it true?” he asked.
“About my origins? Yes. I lived a decent portion of my life on the capital’s edge. I’d witnessed the city’s gentrification of lower-class families who had lived there for so long. I—remained a complicit bystander to all of that.”
“So, what do you get out of this now?”
“Justice. Justice for those who can’t fight the powers that be.”
“With all due respect, you are part of that power.”
“No, I am that power. I understand better than before what my role is in all of this. And you two are the catalysts.”
Janus couldn’t feign his confusion as she walked next to him. Despite her ethereal presence, she stood a few inches shorter than him. In typical fashion, she wore her kimono sloppily. Cire wasn’t a woman about appearance but action.
“Seriously,” he asked. “Why are you here?”
Cire brandished a meek smile. He nodded with a cold sweat after she didn’t respond. Her eyes shifted toward Crescendo, who broke eye contact immediately.
“And Crescendo,” she said. It’s been a long time. Is Janus treating you better?”
“I always—” Cire lifted her finger, accidentally nudging his cheek when she meant to tap his lips.
“I believe I was asking him,” she continued. “He can speak for himself, yes?”
“I’ve been well,” Crescendo spoke. “You look… Great, like always.”
“Yes, I know. You haven’t made your depravity any less obvious.”
So much for a good friend, Janus thought.
“I’ll continue walking through your facilities.”
Cire stumbled over her feet but quickly returned to her graceful posture. She refrained from showing embarrassment from her lack of hand-eye coordination. Janus and Crescendo looked each other in the eye as the doors closed behind them. His boss let out an irritated sigh.
“That sleepy-face bitch,” he growled. “She knows no one can touch her. She’s got no respect for those with tenure.”
Cire continued through the dull corridor. She received glimpses from those who were both familiar and unfamiliar. However, she was in her own zone. Once she ascended the platform, something felt amiss in the war-like preparations. Her gaze fixated on the pulsing beacon atop the tower in the center. If she could take away anything from history, it was that even great powers could become undone. Such was the predicament the Ethoxian Republic had found itself in. Through the stars, she sensed the world unraveling.
Even the wind of change could make the strongest shiver.
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