Chapter 21 - Hello Again!
They stared at each other wordlessly for a long moment. It was clear from the look on her face that she was just as surprised as Mikaen.
Jyle took a seat before realizing he had lost his friend. "Uh, Mikaen? You okay, man?"
It took a considerable amount of effort for Mikaen to wrest his eyes from Tirinia. "Yeah ... sorry."
Shaking his head as Mikaen took his seat, Jyle turned his attention back to the Longshore delegates. "So ... what did you find out?"
The auburn-furred tigreth gave Mikaen an odd look. Jerking a thumb at him, she asked, "You cool with him hearing this?"
"Of course. Mikaen's an old buddy of mine; he knows how to keep a secret, so feel free to say-"
"Rydiana's sneaking out of the castle to spend some 'quality time' with an alcian." The auburn-furred tigreth stated flatly.
There was a snort of laughter. Mikaen was sure it had come from him until Tirinia quickly put her hand to her mouth, her cheeks slightly red beneath her fur.
"An alcian?" Jyle asked, the look in his eyes more curious than angry.
"Yup. Spotted 'em in the act near the Calline Gorge." She paused a moment, before adding, "Well, not spotted, but heard."
"Definitely." Tirinia added. "Over and over again."
"All night, actually."
"Okay, okay." Jyle said, holding up his hands to stop further details. "I get the picture. I don't suppose you managed to catch his name?"
"Not unless his name is 'Sweetie', 'Honeybuns' or, 'Creator's Grace, yes'."
Mikaen let out a snort of laughter that drew curious stares from the rest of the table.
"Something funny I miss?" Jyle asked, raising an eyebrow. He didn't sound offended; if anything, the Cygros seemed genuinely curious.
Shaking his head, Mikaen said, "Stray thought. Sorry, Miss ...?"
"Miss Teria." Mikaen finished.
Teria's eyes narrowed. "Now how in the name of the Creator do you know my name?"
Mikaen frowned. "You just told me."
"No, I didn't." Teria jerked a thumb at Jyle. "He never bothered to introduce us."
"I told him on the way here." Jyle said, flashing Mikaen another curious look. "Now quit stalling; the name if you know it, please."
Teria stared suspiciously at Mikaen for a few more moments before shaking her head and turning back to the Cygros. "Couldn't get a name. Tirinia got a good look at him, though."
"He had white wings."
"Do white wings have some significance?" Mikaen asked curiously, looking at Tirinia. To his surprise, her eyes widened.
Frowning, Teria glared at Jyle and demanded, "Okay, what's the deal here? You went way out of your way to ask us to check up on your precious little snowflake, then ask your friend here to do it too?"
"I did no such thing!" Jyle said indignantly. "Besides, I have it on reliable sources that he spent last night in the Center of Knowledge!"
"Then how'd he know about the wings?"
"Is he right?"
"Well, yeah." Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to Jyle. "I'd say they were probably gray, but Tyr's got the eye for detail. She says they were white, then they were white. The good news is that if this is an alcian we're talking about, identifying him shouldn't be hard."
"White wings are hereditary to the line of Andreas Truth. Don't say anything!"
He glanced at Jyle and Teria, who were still conversing about the mysterious alcian as though they had heard nothing. Tirinia, on the other hand, was still staring at him. When he raised an eyebrow in askance, Tirinia nodded a shy smile on her face.
Mikaen was surprised; while the vuestan were able to refine their mental prowess in such a way to allow them to communicate only to those they wished to communicate with, non-natives who learned mental speech broadcasted their thoughts to all nearby.
There was a faint blush visible beneath the pale fur of her cheeks. "I wasn't sure it would ... I mean, Mother told me it would be like this, but I wasn't sure. I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Mikaen found himself replying mentally before he could stop himself. He needn't have bothered; Jyle and Teria were still arguing, oblivious to Mikaen and Tirinia.
"I've been ... feeling you all morning. When I realized you were here, I couldn't help but feel anxious. I mean, after the other night."
"Oh, that was you?" Mikaen felt more relieved than anything. "I thought I was just dwelling on Trystan's little test."
"I know." She gave him a shy smile. "Thank you."
"I'm still pretty much a stranger to you, yet you saved me in the simulation."
Mikaen felt his cheeks grow warm. "You saw that?"
She nodded ever so slightly, still smiling.
After a momentary pause, Mikaen asked, "Are you okay? I was a bit rough with you during our fight."
"I wasn't exactly going easy on you either." She lowered her eyes again. "I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologize." Mikaen told her. "It was an accident after all. For the record, I'm glad I got to see you again so soon."
"Me too." She blushed ever so faintly beneath her pale fur, yet Mikaen could feel a small surge of happiness. "You're nice. I'm happy it was you."
Mikaen wasn't sure how to respond to that. Fortunately, he realized that Jyle and Teria had stopped talking and were now watching the two of them with mild interest.
"Are we interrupting something?" Jyle asked, a bemused look on his face.
Embarrassment flooded through Mikaen, some of it legitimately his own. Coughing, he said, "Sorry; I was distracted."
"You didn't look distracted." Teria's eyes narrowed.
"Oh no." Tirinia's quiet voice whispered in Mikaen's thoughts. "She knows."
"Calm down." Mikaen replied, trying to push some of his own resolve along with the mental words.
If Teria did indeed know about the bond, she said nothing. That didn't stop her from looking at Mikaen with suspicion though, not that he could blame her; Tirinia was her sister, after all.
Still eying the two of them oddly, Jyle said, "In any case, I'll go through our records and see what I can find. Shouldn't be too hard to find our man."
"Alcians aren't common?" Mikaen asked curiously.
"Not really. I mean, you used to see a few every now and then, but it's been a while." Teria snorted, shaking her head. "Flaky bastards probably went back to Rising Star."
"Flaky?" Mikaen asked before he could stop himself.
Teria let out another derisive snort. "I once saw an alcian sit in a field for three days. When I asked her what she was doing, she just looked back at me and said, 'Where else should I be?' Never a straight answer."
"Sounds familiar." Mikaen said, an image of Narrator Number One flashing through his mind.
Tirinia gave him a questioning glance. He shook his head; he had trouble explaining the Dreamer out loud, let alone while trying to form his thoughts into words.
"Well, there aren't many alcians, let alone with white wings." Jyle told them. "We'll just have to see what comes up."
White wings again. Mikaen made a mental note to ask Trystan about it, forgetting that another mind was listening.
"Like I said, white wings indicate a connection to the bloodline of Andreas Truth. He's kind of a religious leader for the alcians, at least that's what I've heard."
"He's still alive?"
"Well, he's a sentient. They live for millennia."
This gave Mikaen pause. He knew being a sentient made things different, but he didn't know his life expectancy had become drastically longer.
Tirinia's eyes went wide, surprise flooding both of them.
"You're a sentient?" She blurted out before quickly clamping her hands over her mouth, her eyes darting to Teria.
Teria stood up and put her hands on the table looking more than just a bit annoyed. "Okay, what's going on here? Did you two bond while I wasn't looking or something?"
Giving away one's inner feelings during combat could prove disastrous, and as such, Mikaen had long since cultivated a good poker face. Tirinia, on the other hand, quickly averted her gaze and looked extremely guilty, which made the answer to Teria's question all too clear. The stunned expression Teria soon wore made her thoughts on the matter equally easy to read.
Her blushing cheeks visible beneath her pale fur, Tirinia slowly lifted something from her lap and set it gently on the table. It was Truth, the grip once again retracted into the hilt.
Mikaen's hand went to Truth's sheath, only to find it empty once again. In all the excitement, he had forgotten the Truth Tirinia had returned in the simulation had likely vanished at the end of his test.
Jyle, a smirk stealing over his face, picked up Truth and turned to Mikaen. "My, my. Doesn't this look familiar?"
Mikaen felt his face grow very hot.
"Do you want to tell me something?" Jyle asked, a mischievous glint in his eye as he handed the weapon to Mikaen.
"You son of a-" Teria was halfway across the table before Tirinia caught her by the tail and pulled her back.
"It's not his fault, Teria!" Tirinia pleaded as Teria struggled to get free. He was taking a bath the same time I was, and we bumped into each other. I look a lot like his late fiancee, and-"
Teria freed herself from her sister's grasp, her tail lashing angrily. "So you bonded with him? You don't know anything about him, Tyr! I know you tend to be impulsive at times, but by the Creator, I didn't think you were stupid!"
Tirinia sat down very quickly, her face flushed bright red. Her embarrassment flowed through Mikaen, but was quickly dwarfed by Mikaen's own anger.
"Hey!" He said, rising to his feet and meeting Teria's gaze head on. "You got a problem with me, how about you take it up with me instead of bullying your sister?"
Teria looked as though she had been slapped across the face. "Oh, that's it. You're going down, bird boy!"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" thundered Jyle, as Mikaen and Teria simultaneously moved to climb over the table and fight. "Mikaen; keep the chivalry in check. Teria, stop being an ass to your sister. Got it?"
With a final vicious glare at each other, Mikaen and Teria sat back down.
Mikaen still felt anger burning deep in his chest, but the rush of gratitude and happiness from Tirinia made any ill feelings fade.
Jyle said, "Now it seems to me that Tirinia has the main say in this."
Jyle held up a finger to silence Teria. "She's the one with the bond, not you, and not your mother. If she has a problem with it, I'm sure we can find a pharmacist who can get us the proper medicine to break the bond." Turning back to Tirinia, Jyle asked, "So is there a problem here?"
Tirinia looked at Mikaen for a long moment. He was startled when he realized that she liked him; she like him a lot. Even more startling was the realization that he felt the same way. Maybe it was their conversation in the dream, or her kind demeanor, or the way her thoughts seemed so gentle, but he found himself wanting to spend more time with her.
A smile spreading across her face as she no doubt caught everything he had been thinking, Tirinia replied, "No."
Teria's mouth fell open. Quickly catching herself, she said, "But-"
Her voice fell flat as the butler entered the room. After bowing stiffly at the guests, he told Jyle, "I apologize for the interruption, Cygros, but I was told to inform you that Lady Rydiana and her Majesty are awaiting your arrival in the Royal Garden."
Sighing, Jyle rose to his feet. "It's just as well. I think we all need a little quiet time."
"Yes, your Majesty." Mikaen said in his snarkiest voice.
Tirinia giggled. He even got a smirk from Teria, though only for a moment.
Glowering at Mikaen, Jyle left the room, muttering, "Wise ass."
Teria rose and headed to the door as well, pointedly not looking at Mikaen as she passed.
"I'm sorry about Teria." Tirinia told Mikaen through the bond, "She's always been really protective of-"
"Come on, Tirinia." Teria snapped. "We need to have a talk."
She wanted to stay and talk with Mikaen far more than deal with another gripe session from her older sister. This Mikaen could tell quite clearly, even if sensing her thoughts was still a strange experience for him. Still, she cared for her sister a great deal, and Mikaen knew she wanted her older sibling to understand, even if he didn't know what it was that needed understanding.
Not wanting to make her choose, Mikaen said, "Well, I hope I'll get a chance to see you later. At supper maybe?"
The lifting of her spirits made Mikaen's heart feel light. She graced him with a smile as Teria pulled her through the door.
He waited a moment to see if she would answer him mentally, but apparently she was busy thinking of what she was going to tell Teria. The clarity of her thoughts began to fade; Mikaen suspected that distance was a major factor, though he could only guess as to how. Sighing, Mikaen headed for the other door. As his hand brushed the handle, however, he realized that he didn't know where his room was.
"Well, crap." he muttered.
Mikaen didn't even have to turn around to know that One was sitting at the table. "I was wondering when you were going to show up. Having a busy day fiddling with people's lives?"
"Only yours, Mikey." One set his booted feet on the table and put his hands behind his head, smiling.
Sitting down beside the Dreamer, Mikaen said, "You knew about Jyle, didn't you?"
"That he was a knight? Yeah. Jyle, Elduran, Trystan, and I were involved in some sticky business with a summoner named Ackibar; when you get pulled into that kind of wild adventure, you typically pick up a few things about your companions on the way."
"I think I remember Elduran mentioning that." Mikaen said, mentally making a note to ask Jyle about One at a later time. "Something about virgin sacrifice?"
One nodded. "Yeah. Didn't quite work out though. Jyle and Julia had already … ahem."
"Already what?" Mikaen said before the meaning sank in. Feeling a faint rush to his cheeks, he finished meekly, "Oh! Right."
One hopped out of his chair. "Tell you what: why don't I show you to the Galden guest rooms? That is where you wanted to go, right?"
Mikaen yawned as he stood up. "Yeah, I think I could use a nap about now."
As they left the chamber, Mikaen's thoughts turned to Tirinia. He just couldn't get her out of his mind. She seemed so perfect: strong and agile, yet kind-hearted and gentle … and so beautiful. A small burst of happiness accompanied his thoughts, making him blush; Tirinia was appreciative of his feelings, and wanted him to know.
"One," Mikaen asked, "Why did you arrange for me to meet Tirinia?"
One sighed. "Like I told you before, I probably didn't need to do anything. You would have met her at the Council, and the two of you would probably have been attracted to each other. Am I right?"
Mikaen thought about it for a moment. "Yeah, you're right. Still, why didn't you just wait?"
"Well, sometimes two people need a nudge to come together. Better safe than sorry, right?" He let out another sigh. "I just didn't count on Teria catching me."
Mikaen let out a laugh and shook his head. "Is there anyone here you don't know?"
After a moment of silence, Mikaen turned to see that One had vanished.