Rating: PG-13, may rise later
Pairing: Minor Fayt/Sophia, Albel/Fayt
Theme: 10. The Road Back To You
Warnings: Main plot spoilers, Spoilers for Albel/Fayt's paired ending, warning for a bit of violence
Summary: While exploring an undeveloped planet, Fayt gets seperated from Albel. However, finding the swordsman won't be easy...
Comments: Part of a series for the 10_passions. Instead of writing 10 seperate stories based on all 10 themes, I'm writing one story on the same timeline using every 'part' as a theme. I dunno if this will reach a full 10 parts.
This part is unusually long. I don't know how it clocked in at nearly 10k words, it wasn't supposed to, believe me.
Um, sadly, this got so long that there wasn't enough room for notes. If you want to see the notes for this story, visit here.
Sometimes, events in life never turn out as expected. One single event can turn our world upside down. What we once believed, shattered in a brief moment. Plans become wistful dreams, and we find ourselves doing things we never imagined doing before.
The above summed up Fayt's life really well.
Fayt had decided that after his vacation with his parents and childhood friend, he would start seriously planning his future. He had promised himself to sit down and study more often than he did, and lay off the video games for a while. Plan his life out now that he was considered an adult.
A few times on the trip, he had daydreamed what his life would be like a few years down the line. He could picture himself on graduation day, his parents’ proud smiles flashing at him as he received his diploma. Heck, there were times where he saw himself settling down and starting a family.
'But those childhood fantasy days are gone, aren't they?' He asked himself as he looked up at the clear sky. 'All those dreams I had will remain that now.'
He could've gone back to a somewhat normal life. He could've gone back to college and graduated (just not in Symbology). He could've gone back to Earth. His father might not be there, but his mother and Sophia would be there, at least. There was enough money after their travels to cover tuition costs, and he could've gotten a part time job, if need be. He could have still settled down and live a normal life.
So why did he shake his head when Sophia had asked him if he wanted to go with her to see his mother?
For a moment, Fayt had felt guilty when Sophia frowned at him, knowing all too well that she was disappointed. She had expected Fayt to say 'yes'. Did she think he was insensitive when he gave her a letter addressed to his mother? She didn't say a word as she took the letter from his hands, but he could tell just by looking in her eyes.
However, Fayt knew that if he had said 'yes', he would have regretted it forever. He didn't even realize that he had said that thought out loud and was surprised when Sophia had hugged him, promising that she would deliver the letter. He knew that she understood when she smiled, waving her hand as she was teleported up to a transport ship.
Had it only been a few months since he had said goodbye to everyone? Had it really been that long since he had worked up the courage and asked the most unlikely person among their group if he wanted to travel the many different worlds in the galaxy? He had expected to hear 'No' or receive a cold, silent stare in return. He didn't expect the person to grin and say, 'Sounds interesting.'
Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, he closed his eyes. Did he make the right decision?
"Are you all done looking at the sky or are you going to stand there all day, looking more like a fool than you are?"
Shaking his head, Fayt looked to his companion, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry Albel, I was... just thinking about some things."
"You can 'think' all you want when we get to the next town. Now start walking or I'll leave you behind."
Fayt tried hard not to smile as he watched Albel walk ahead of him as he lifted his bag over his shoulder, taking out the map of the area. He couldn't hold the smile back when Albel stopped suddenly as Fayt quickened his pace to catch up to his companion.
Apparently, the smile didn't go un-noticed by his companion. "What are you smiling at, fool?"
"Oh, um... I was just thinking of a joke that Cliff told me."
"That man is a walking joke."
Sighing, Fayt turned back to the map in his hands. "At the next crossroad, we need to take the east path. If we follow that through the woods, it should only be about ten minutes before we reach the town."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. I printed out this map before we landed, and I checked the scanner too. There were a large amount of humanoids in that direction and it's very unlikely that the inhabitants would gather in one area."
"And yet, the last time you came to that conclusion, we ended up in a middle of a feud!"
"And I warned you that something unusual was going on in that area, considering that everyone was running around and there were two sides all clumped together. But you insisted that we still go that way!"
"Consider it training on your part."
"I don't think getting involved in another village's problems and fighting for our lives is 'training'."
"You wouldn't need training if you didn't have your head stuck up in the clouds all the time."
Did Fayt regret his decision?
'Even with all the arguments and the trouble we get into... No, I don't regret it at all.'
'Okay, maybe I'll take that back...' Fayt thought as he leaned heavily on his sword, catching his breath. He knew that Albel liked to fight random monsters on the way to their destinations, but after about the twentieth one...
"Would you hurry up already!? We could've been at the town already if we didn't stop every minute so you could catch your breath!"
"We wouldn't be stopping if you looked up the word 'restraint' in the dictionary!"
"You wouldn't be out of breath if you trained harder!"
"Your idea of 'training' would've killed normal people by now!"
"Oh? You don't see me catching my breath after every battle now, do you?"
"No, but I can tell that you're getting tired. Your stride isn't as fast as when we first started out and I can see the way you struggled to keep your sword straight when we were fighting."
"Bah! Fine, I'll go on ahead!"
"Wait!" Fayt wobbled back to his feet. "You can't go in by yourself with no map or anything!"
"Watch me," Albel stated as he strode his way into the woods up ahead.
"Dammit, why don't you listen to me for a change..." Fayt murmured as he tried to catch up to Albel, managing to stumble on a nearby tree root in the process. Cursing, he lifted his head, only to see Albel's shadowy figure in the distance. Standing up and breaking into a run, Fayt entered the woods, hoping to catch up with Albel.
After a few minutes of running and still no sign of Albel, he stopped. Surely Albel couldn't have gotten that far ahead of him. He took out his quad scanner and surveyed the intermediate area. No signs of life showed up.
"That's odd..." Fayt mumbled. "There's no way he could've gotten that far ahead of me, not at the speed he was walking... Let's see what the scanner says when I expand the range..."
But even with the distance of one hundred kilometers, still nothing showed on the radar.
"This is weird. There are absolutely no signs of life. Usually, in a forest like this, this scanner picks up at least animals..." He looked up and saw a bird fly from the tree. "Is it broken? No, it can't be, because before we entered these woods, the scanner was working perfectly. Is there something interfering?"
Knowing that technology was going to do him little good, Fayt put the scanner back in his pocket, walking ahead. "I'm sure I'll run into him. It's not like he can't take care of himself."
At first, Fayt hummed to himself, taking in the fresh air, his eyes drifting to admire the tall greenery around him. Normally, he couldn't take the time to appreciate what was around him, as Albel would turn around and tell him to stop dawdling. But now, Fayt was going to finally enjoy the scenes around him.
Most of the tree rose ten to twenty feet above his head. The planet they were on had seasonal weather that represented earth’s own climate and from the way the hot sun shone through the green leaves, Fayt figured it had to be late spring or early summer. It was warm, but it wasn't sweltering hot.
Occasionally, he saw a squirrel run across the road or he saw plants he recognized growing off in the distance or close to the road. Some of them he didn't recognize at all, and while he was tempted to grab a sample, he remembered about Albel, and decided he could always come back later.
Overall, it was an enjoyable walk, quiet and peaceful.
However, after an hour of walking with no change in scenery, Fayt was starting to worry.
"There's no way the forest could be this big from the map printed out. And it makes no sense that I can't pick up anything on the radar..."
Fayt stopped and looked at the ground, frowning. "And not only that, I haven't seen a single sign of Albel. If he walked through here, I would at least see his tracks. But it looks like no one has walked down this path at all! Just what..."
A rustle from a bush nearby made him jump. Instinct had him going for his sword as he moved closer. "Who's there?" When no answer was forthcoming, Fayt turned off the path, keeping his eyes on the rustling bush. "Albel?" Taking a deep breath, Fayt peered over the hedge...
And gasped in surprise. Lying in a small clearing was not Albel at all, but someone he clearly knew...
"Sophia!?" Fayt dropped his stance altogether and ran for the figure lying on the ground. He started to shake her shoulders. "Sophia!? Answer me!"
A moan escaped the girl's lips as she opened her eyes. "Huh? Fayt...?"
"Sophia! Are you okay!? Are you hurt!? What are you doing here!?"
"Wha...t?" The girl mumbled as she rubbed her eyes. "Fayt, is that really you?" Receiving a nod, Sophia looked around. "Wait, how did I...?"
"It's okay, Sophia. I'm here," Fayt answered, putting on his most reassuring smile. "You don't have to worry, we'll figure something out."
"I'm glad..." Sophia said with a smile, standing up, brushing the dust off her pants. Relieved that his childhood friend was all right, Fayt scanned the woods.
"Geez, now I wonder what happened to Albel..."
"Huh?" Fayt was a little startled the way Sophia's voice rose at that simple word, but he brushed it off. 'She's probably confused, just as much as I am.'
"Oh, he ran off in here and I haven't been able to find him since."
"You're worried about him!? What about me, Fayt? I haven't seen you in a long time! I don't know how I ended up here or where I am, and all you can think about is Albel the Wicked!?"
"Sophia?" Okay, now Fayt was worried. 'This isn't like her...'
"And now that I see you again, all you do is worry about him, him, him! It was bad enough for me to see you prefer his company to mine when we were traveling together, but it was tolerable. Even when you said you wanted to travel with him, I couldn't understand. I couldn't understand at all, but I nodded and smiled for your sake, Fayt! Because I trusted you, it was your life, after all. But even now, now that we're alone together, you still thinking of nothing but him!"
"Sophia... It's not..."
That didn't stop her from fuming. "I still don't understand, Fayt! We're childhood friends! You're like family to me, and you ditch me and Aunt Ryoko to hang around with someone who threatens to take your life every other day! You ditch people you've known your whole life, your entire family, your friends, people who treated you with respect, who care for you deeply, to hang around with a murderous lunatic!"
"Sophia... Albel is..."
"Oh, I think I see now, Fayt! Birds of a feather flock together!"
Green eyes widened in surprise at the girl's cruel smile. He looked down at the ground, his entire body shaking. 'I can't believe Sophia could say... No, she could never be this cruel!' He looked up, a retort sitting on his lips, but it never left his mouth. The girl he was staring at had the exact same face, but the clothes...
"Fayt... How could you let Dion die? Didn't you promise me...?"
"You promised! You promised that you would bring him home safely!" The girl ran towards Fayt, burying her face into his chest, pounding her small delicate fist into his shoulder. "You promised! You promised!"
"Ameena... I'm so sorry..."
"You promised..." was the last thing the girl uttered before she lost what energy was fueling her and collapsed at Fayt's feet.
Without bothering to check to see if Ameena was alright, Fayt ran. He didn't care where he was going or if something was going to get him, all that was important was to run as far away and as fast as possible. The voices of Ameena and Sophia kept ringing in his head and the harder he tried to ignore them, the louder they seemed to get.
Fayt felt himself crash head first into something. He didn't care who or what it was and would've run off again if a hand didn't shoot out and grab his wrist. He tried to pull his arm away, but whoever held his wrist had a good grip.
"Hey, kid, are you okay?"
Fayt froze at the sound of the voice and turned around, gazing into blue eyes. "Cliff!?"
"Who did you think it was?" The man asked with a grin, but the grin was immediately wiped off his face, as he studied Fayt's expression. "Are you okay, Fayt? Everyone was worried about you."
"Yeah, you've been gone for hours. We were starting to worry that something happened to you."
"What are you talking about? And what are you doing here, Cliff?"
"What do you mean, 'what am I doing here?' It was your idea, kid, that we come here!"
"Yeah, you said that this area had some of the strongest monsters and that some training would be a benefit to us for the upcoming battles!" Cliff crossed his arms, looking at Fayt. "Are you sure you're okay, kid? You looked like you were in a panic when I caught you. You didn't see anything suspicious out there, did you?"
"No, I..." Now Fayt was completely confused. 'Was what I saw a dream? Was all the time I spent with Albel a dream too?' Not wanting to worry Cliff any further, Fayt shook his head. "I'm sorry, Cliff. I guess I was more tired than I realized and fell asleep. I just had a bad dream, that's all."
"You sure?" A nod answered his question. "All right, but if you're feeling sick or anything, speak up. I don't want to see you collapsing on us and I'm sure Sophia would be worried as well."
The mention of Sophia's name made the hairs rise on the back of his neck. "Cliff?"
"Did Sophia wander off from here?"
"Not that I know of. She's been talking to Maria the entire time; although she did want to come along to find you, but I told her I'd go look for you. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, it's nothing, that's all. I thought I saw her while I was walking, but I guess it was my imagination..."
When they returned to the small camp, Fayt relaxed a little bit, but kept on his guard. Everything seemed in place. Nel, Maria and Sophia appeared to be preparing some food when they arrived. Sophia looked up as Cliff and Fayt made their way across the small open area.
"Fayt! You're okay!" Sophia exclaimed as she ran up, giving Fayt a light hug. "We were worried when you didn't come back!"
"I'm sorry if I worried you," Fayt answered, rubbing the back of his head. "I just... needed some time alone." He felt Cliff pat him on the shoulder before he walked off towards one of the tents. "Where is everyone else?"
"Mirage is inside one of the tents, checking up on the surrounding areas via the scanners. Adray is surveying the area. Cliff went out looking for you while Maria, Nel, and myself were preparing dinner. We're making stew tonight. I hope you don't mind?"
"That sounds wonderful, Sophia." Fayt looked around the area. He swallowed a bit, the memory of before coming back to him, but he had to ask. "Sophia, where's Albel?"
"Yeah. Is he out scouting with Adray?"
Fayt already knew the frown that Sophia had on her face meant trouble. "Albel? Who is Albel?"
"You know, Albel. Albel Nox."
The frown only deepened. "I don't know who you're talking about, Fayt..."
"Sophia! This... this really isn't funny!"
He nearly regretted those words when he saw the tears forming in Sophia's eyes. "I wouldn't lie to you, Fayt. I really don't know anyone named Albel..."
"I'm sorry, Sophia. I know you wouldn't lie..." He breathed a sigh of relief, as Sophia seemed to calm down. 'Something is really wrong here,' Fayt thought as he looked over Sophia's shoulder. He saw Maria walk by, a few twigs in her arms. "Maria!" When she looked up at him, he asked, "Do you know where Albel is?"
"Albel? Who is that?"
'Now I know something is wrong!' "You know, Albel Nox! The man we picked up when we went to Airglyph!"
Blue eyes blinked at him. "I don't remember picking anyone up in Airglyph..." She put the twigs in her hands down and started to approach him. "Are you all right? You’re not sick, are you? "
"Dammit..." Fayt murmured, completely ignoring Maria’s concern and turned toward the campfire. The sight of red hair caught his attention. "Nel!"
Nel looked up from the small pot she was stirring over the campfire. "Yes?"
"Do you know Albel Nox?"
Eyes narrowed as a scowl cross Nel's face. "Why are you bringing up that man's name?"
'Maybe I can get some answers now...' "Where is he!?"
"Why are you speaking of someone who nearly took our lives!?"
"Fayt..." A hand rested on his shoulder as he looked into gray eyes. "Are you feeling okay? Who is Albel? Was he someone you fought?"
Ignoring Sophia's concern, Fayt shook his head. "Don't you remember!? The King of Airglyph had him accompany us when we went up to the Lava Caves!"
Nel stood up. "What are you talking about, Fayt? How could someone who was killed by your own two hands come with us?"
"Don't you remember? We nearly got away with the copper ore and Albel was waiting there for us. Only he challenged you to a one-on-one duel. You know how opposed Cliff and myself were, but you accepted the challenge despite it, and you were the one who walked away the winner!"
"You were almost beaten and Cliff and I were about to intervene, when you used some sort of strange technique. It killed Albel instantly. We didn't expect that to happen, but it was war after all. How could you have forgotten that!?" The anger in Nel's voice died away. "Are you really okay?"
Although his friends sounded concerned for him, and Fayt very well knew that they were, he could see something else reflected in all three of the women’s eyes. He saw it reflected in Cliff’s eyes as well.
'They fear you, fear that you've finally gone mad... '
Shaking his head and closing his eyes, Fayt yelled, "No, I'm not okay!"
"Fayt..." Sophia tried to reach out to Fayt, only to have her hand slapped away.
"You're all wrong! I couldn't have killed him! I..."
Fayt was running again. He could hear the others shout his name and he could hear the crunch of dirt and leaves behind him, but he didn't look back. He didn't want to look back.
'Because if I look back... Look into their eyes...'
Fatigue eventually caught up with Fayt, and he collapsed against a nearby tree, catching his breath. Panting, he looked up and saw a small lake nearby. The mere sight of water made Fayt realize how thirsty he was, he hadn't eaten or drank anything in... well, a while now. Using the little energy he had left, Fayt wobbled over to the edge of the lake. He suppressed the urge to just dip his entire head in the water and settled for taking a small sip.
'The water tastes normal enough, so I guess it's okay...'
When he was satisfied, he closed his eyes and leaned back onto the grass, the tension leaving his body. 'I guess I was more thirsty than I thought...' He opened his eyes once again...
And found himself staring into a pair of amused red eyes.
A chuckle escaped Albel's lips as he watched Fayt jump to his feet, his face white as the snow in Airglyph. "It seriously amazes me how easy it is to catch you off guard."
"Albel! Is that... really you?" Fayt questioned, looking at the man from head to toe.
"No, I'm really one of your pathetic friends dressed up pretending to be Albel." The sarcasm didn't seem to have the effect that Albel thought it would have, as Fayt was actually pondering the idea. "Please don't tell me that you took what I said seriously? Here I thought you had at least some common sense."
Flushing slightly at being caught, Fayt looked at the ground. "No, I... It's just..."
A hand cupped his cheek as he looked into crimson eyes. "You didn't hit your head, did you? You're acting more strange than you usually do."
Fayt felt his cheeks burn. 'Is he... giving me sympathy? God, I must be a real wreck if I'm getting sympathy from Albel...' Shaking his head, Fayt said, "No, I just... don't feel well, that's all."
Fayt expected some sort of reprimand or some sort of remark along the lines of, 'Falling to a simple cold? Bah, you're weaker than I thought!' No, he knew it was coming. He was so busy thinking of a retort that he almost missed when Albel started speaking again.
"Hmmm, we could rest here for a while then. We have been traveling non-stop, so I guess a rest wouldn't slow us down completely." Fayt knew that his surprise, (also known as: jaw dropping to the ground), was showing, because Albel was currently scowling at him. "Why are you looking at me like that!?"
Swallowing, Fayt shook his head. "I just... didn't expect to hear you say that..."
"What? You expected me to drag you along when you're not feeling well?"
The scowl only deepened. "And what? Have you completely worn out on the way there, so I'd have to carry you into town? And then waste money getting a doctor, only to have the fool give you medicine that is double or triple the price that he normally charges? Or maybe you would like it if something came out to attack us, and in the middle of the battle, you find yourself so completely out of energy that you can't even lift your sword, let alone swing it?"
"No, I just..."
"How disappointing, Fayt."
"No, it's just... Wait, what did you call me?"
Albel crossed his arms, a frown forming on his lips. "What do you mean, what did I call you?"
"I mean, did you just call me by my first name?"
The frown only deepened. "What are you babbling about, Fayt? What else would I call you by?"
"Some deviation of a creepy crawling insect or some other form of the word 'fool'."
Fayt had seen many expressions on Albel's face before. Angry, upset, thrilled, and amused were common. Occasionally, usually during the times when Albel slept, he had seen the peaceful expression on the warrior's face, or when the warrior had one of his night fits, his brow would be creased as he tossed and turned, clutching the blanket in a death-like grip.
But the one expression he had never seen was the look Albel was giving him right now. The disappointment in his eyes that met Fayt's only for a second before turning towards the lake, the deep frown gone, replaced by a straight neutral line, the slumped shoulders...
"I thought you knew me better than that..." Fayt didn't have to hear the statement, but he knew that's exactly what the swordsman was thinking.
"I'm sorry..." was the first thing Fayt said as he turned to stare out at the lake. "I just... been having these really strange 'visions'." When Albel didn't say anything, Fayt continued on. "I mean, I don't know what's real anymore or what's a dream. I thought I was just lost simply, but then I saw Sophia and it turned out it wasn't really her, and then I saw Cliff and everyone else again, including Sophia, and then they told me you were dead and I..."
Snorting his displeasure, Albel shook his head. "Hmph, nonsense..."
"But they seemed so real!" Fayt argued. "And I don't even know if this is a dream now, or if it's some sort of fever dream or, or... I don't know! I think I may be going crazy now."
"And why do you think this is a dream now?"
Chewing on his lower lip, Fayt debated on saying his reasons, not wanting to upset the man again. But he found his lips moving before he could make his decision. "Because... something just doesn't feel right."
"But isn't this what you wanted?"
"Wha..." Albel turned to his direction, his crimson eyes locking onto his own. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I guess I can excuse your muddled mind for the moment if you can't remember off the top of your head. But think back."
'How am I supposed to think back when I can't even trust my memories now?' Nevertheless, Fayt closed his eyes, trying to recall the memories before they had landed on this planet. "I remember getting sort of annoyed at how much we argue and wanting to talk a bit more civilly."
"Is that all?"
Fayt desperately wracked his brain for any other indication or sign from the past few weeks. "I sort of wished that we didn't get into as many fights as we do when we travel, but you told me that it was good training and deep down, I enjoyed the combat. I ended up becoming mad at you, but when I thought it over, you were right. I just didn't want to admit it. Still, I don't think I can even begin to enjoy battling as much as you."
"Hmph, is that all you can remember?"
Concentrating even more, Fayt started going back through conversations that he and Albel shared, the many towns they visited, the many physical and verbal matches they had. But not a single one stood out as important or noteworthy to answer Albel's question.
Sighing, Fayt finally shook his head, looking at the ground. "I'm really sorry, but I just... can't remember."
And then, Albel was walking towards him. Fayt kept his head lowered towards the ground, eyeing the dirt like it was the most important thing in the universe right now. He knew Albel was looking at him, and that only made him feel worse. He could feel the close proximity of the other swordsman, he could feel the warmth radiating from the other's body and suddenly found himself flushing. The tickle of Albel's bangs brushed his cheek, as he leant down to whisper.
"That's too bad, Fayt..."
And then the warmth was gone. Fayt's head shot up as he looked up to find Albel walking away from him. "What do you mean by that?"
Albel paused for a second before turning his head towards him. Fayt found himself taking a step back at the... defeated look in Albel's eyes.
"If you truly cannot remember, then it's not something you wanted."
"What was it then!?"
The swordsman was smirking at him. However this smirk was different, devoid of all the amusement and smugness that Fayt was accustomed to seeing. "I don't think I'll tell you. Because if it was as important to you as it was important to me, you wouldn't have trouble remembering, dream or no dream."
Fayt looked down, letting the words Albel said to him sink in. Fayt was going to ask Albel another question, but he was no longer there. Fayt looked all around him, but Albel was nowhere to be seen. The lake that they were by had also mysteriously vanished.
'I don't understand... any of this! What did he mean by that? If it was that important, he'd tell me! But then again, that look in his eyes... I've never seen Albel look like that, let alone act like that.
'Just what the heck is going on? The scenery around here is completely different now! Was what happened just another dream? Am I going crazy?
'First was that Sophia dream. She didn't act or sound like her normal self. And then Ameena... Then there was the dream with everyone else, claiming that I was the one who killed Albel. It's like the events at the mines were different... And then there was this conversation with Albel, or someone looking like Albel. He seemed very different from his normal self, more subdued...
'Wait. The one thing in these dreams was that it involved Albel somehow. But why him? Was it because he's in this forest too? Or is it because he was the last person I saw? Or was it...'
The rustle of a bush brought him out of his thoughts and Fayt's hand was going for the hilt of his sword again. "Deja vu," He murmured.
Wide red eyes met emerald eyes. "Albel!? Where did you go?"
Before he could take another step forward, the swordsman had his sword out, pointed directly at Fayt. "I swear, if this is another foolish illusion..."
"Wait, so you weren't talking to me before?"
"What are you talking about, fool? I expected you to catch up, but when I didn't hear your whining voice behind me, I turned back and started looking for you."
A smile crossed Fayt's lips. "You were worried about me?"
'Busted!' Fayt thought as Albel turned his face away. "Bah. You're the one who had all the supplies. I don't know how far this forest stretches for. Of course, you had the bloody map."
'I'll leave it at that.' The happiness Fayt felt started to dissipate as he remembered the situation at hand. "Wait a minute, you said something about an illusion. Did you meet anyone or see anything before you met up with me?"
"I did see something."
Fayt wanted to ask exactly what Albel saw, but the expression Albel was giving him made him hesitate. Basically a 'Don't ask or you'll be sorry you did' look. "I won't ask about it. But I saw some things too. I kept walking, hoping to catch up, but after a while, I knew that something was wrong because the trail I was walking down didn't show any sign of being used."
"So why didn't you use that stupid device you always carry around?"
"Because it's not working properly! When I scanned the area for any life forms, nothing came up at all, even though there were birds flying right over my head and small animals were walking across the path!"
"Hmph, maybe you'll learn now that your so-called 'technology' can't be as reliable as you believe."
"Hey, you were the one who asked me why I didn't use the scanner!" Fayt was waiting for another retort back at him, but Albel had his eyes on something in another direction. "Are you even listening..."
"Be quiet, something's coming."
Closing his mouth, Fayt looked in the same direction Albel was, his hand gripping the hilt of his blade. The woods had suddenly gone quiet, all signs of life gone save for the two of them in the small clearing. There were no footsteps to be heard, but something inside told Fayt that someone, or something, was coming towards them.
"Teehee! I think this is the first time someone has broken through all three of my phantasms and -not- had their wills broken."
A young girl stepped out into the clearing. Her outfit was quite bizarre to the normal observer, her tunic and the skirt she wore were a light shade of pink. Black boots went up to her knees. Her auburn hair cascaded down her right shoulder in a braid, her clear sky blue eyes twinkling in amusement at the both of them. A pointy black hat sat atop her head. She had no weapon in her hands, but Fayt knew that she could pose a serious threat and she wouldn't need a physical weapon to do so.
"My, my..." She berated as she continued to walk up to them without hesitation. "This is unexpected. I think it's been... about twenty years since someone had the courage to enter these woods. And... you're not even from this planet! How delicious!"
Fayt was a bit taken aback. "How do you know we're not from here!?"
She stopped in her steps, her cool eyes turning towards Fayt. "My dear boy, you clearly underestimate people who aren't as technologically advanced as the people from your planet. The entire universe isn't as ignorant as you people like to believe."
Fayt was speechless. However, Albel wasn't dismayed as he glared at the woman.
"So I take it you're the witch who sent those ridiculous images to us?"
The woman turned her head towards Albel. "Technically. It was I who conjured the spell to trap people who enter these woods, but the images you saw, they were not my doing."
Eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by that?"
"My silly boy, those spells were meant to entrap anyone. Meaning that while you were seeing something, your friend over there was seeing something else. In plain terms, those so-called illusions you were seeing were images reflecting what is inside of yourself."
"I don't understand..." Fayt murmured.
"The spell I created over this forest was to trap anyone who foolishly decided to enter. The dreams were reflections of the person's heart, mainly fears and desires of the person, whether conscious or subconscious. The spell had its limit, so it could only show a total of three images to the person.
"The first one was a reflection of a conscious fear or guilt. The person is perfectly aware of what they did, and they haven't come to some sort of resolution to their conflict. Most people fall to this illusion and never break free.
"The second one was a mix of conscious and subconscious. This is usually a fear, but the person isn't fully aware of it. They may be aware of this fear to a certain extent, but the person denies it or doesn't realize it.
"The final image is when fear doesn't work at all. The image is a subconscious desire, something that the person wants, but doesn't realize it yet. The image works most of the time, because the person is drawn to it, and has no reason to doubt what's before them, because they don't realize in their mind that it's something they always wanted."
Fayt closed his eyes. 'That first image then would make sense. I was afraid Sophia would get mad at me for staying with Albel. And Ameena...
'The second image... Was I afraid that my memories couldn't be trusted? Or did it really have to do with Albel being dead? Or maybe it's the fact that I killed him without realizing it? Those powers of mine I can’t control... Or perhaps it was the fear I saw in everyone's eyes. The only person who never looked at me that way is...
'The third image... I don't understand. Albel was being nice to me for a change. It felt good, but I felt like I was missing something. He was really upset that I couldn't remember something, something important. I do admit, I like when we're conversing civilly, but that wasn't it. I just don't know...'
Albel's voice snapped Fayt back into reality. "In other words, only weak-minded fools would fall for such foolishness."
The woman only smiled. "Perhaps, but just because people are physically strong doesn't mean that their heart and mind are. I'm sure you understand that well, Albel Nox."
"Enough of these foolish games!" Albel yelled, unsheathing his sword. The woman only laughed, which seemed to infuriate Albel even more.
"Sorry, but I don't have time to fight today. Besides, your physical attacks would have no effect on me." She turned back to Fayt. "You, on the other hand..."
Fayt swallowed the lump in his throat, as her blue eyes seemed to bore into his very soul. And somehow, Fayt realized that the woman knew all about him. Perhaps she knew things even he didn't know.
Shaking her head, the woman looked between them. "Well, I think I had enough fun today. So I'll take my leave."
"You can't be serious!" Albel yelled.
"Oh, but I am. Down this path that I'm standing on, you'll find your way out. The village of Astronia is maybe a twenty-minute walk from here. Please give the mayor my 'fondest' regards."
"You're letting us go?" Fayt questioned.
The woman nodded. "Consider it... a reward for breaking through my phantasms. However, if you come into this forest again, you'll die. Toodles!"
Before either one of them could say anything, the woman vanished before their eyes. Fayt could hear a bird chirp in the distance and the rustle of the leaves in the trees could be heard once again. The woman was truly gone.
"Unbelievable!" Albel yelled, sheathing his sword again. "That stupid wench treated everything as if it were a game to her and she could do as she pleased!"
"I somehow think that's not far from the truth..." Fayt answered. "I don't know who or even what she is, but I could just... sense the power coming from her."
"Oh? Don't tell me you were scared by a stupid woman in pink, of all colors?"
"Someone doesn't have to wear intimidating clothes to be dangerous. And I knew that if we tried to fight her, we'd have a hard time doing so."
"Hmph, well, it looks like you're not as naive as I thought you were."
"I'll take that as a compliment. But I'm surprised you’d say that, as you were willing to fight her."
"Wenches like her don't frighten me. But I will admit, she would've been quite a challenge. Apparently, the woman could use very powerful Symbology."
Fayt raised his eyebrow. "How could you tell? I couldn't see any runes attached to her body."
"You don't need to see any runes on her body to know. I'll admit, I don't know much about Symbology, but that woman was surrounded by waves that even I could see."
Fayt nodded. He had almost forgotten that Elicoorians could see Symbological waves. He started heading down the path before Albel grabbed his wrist. "What?"
"You aren't seriously going to go down that path?"
"Well, how else are we going to get out of here?"
"I take back what I said before. Have you lost your mind!? We don't know if that woman was telling the truth! What if we walk into a trap or some sort of foolish delusion that the wench seems to love invoking!?"
Sighing, Fayt crossed his arms. "That's a good point. But we have no other choice really. The scanner isn't going to help if a powerful spell is cast over this forest. And I don't think wandering randomly through the forest is going to do us any good. So we're just going to have to take the risk."
Albel only glared at Fayt. "And what if I'm right?"
Fayt smiled. "Then you can yell and say, 'I told you so!' all you want, considering that we're still alive."
Albel snorted, but a grin began to twitch on the corner of his mouth. "I'll hold you to your word then. And don't you dare think of dying on me."
"I wouldn't dream of it. Let's get going."
They walked in relative silence down the path the woman told them to follow. Albel kept scanning the trees around him, as if he was expecting something to come out. Fayt kept his eyes on the path ahead; purposely stopping to make sure Albel was still behind him. When Albel bumped into Fayt, he scowled at him, but kept quiet.
Finally, the trees ended as they stepped out into the clear night sky. Not too far in the distance, small houses could be seen. Some of the windows glowed and there were torches outside of the small town gates.
"That must be Astronia..." Fayt mumbled as he came to a stop. He almost fell face first to the ground as Albel bumped into him again.
"Would you stop that!? It was annoying enough bumping into you every minute while walking down that trail!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."
"Oh my God!"
Both Fayt and Albel turned to the sound of that voice. A man dressed in simple worn travel clothes gaped at them.
"What are you staring at!?" Albel demanded. Fayt shook his head and looked at the man.
"I'm sorry we startled you. But we're sort of lost and we've been traveling all night. Is that village over there Astronia?"
"It is, lad. But... don't tell me you came out of that forest?"
"Are you blind or do you need glasses?" Albel asked, the sarcasm rolling off his tongue. "Yes, we came out of those woods just now that you obviously were gawking at."
Fayt scowled at Albel, who only rolled his eyes at the boy. Turning back to the man, Fayt smiled politely. "Excuse my friend here. He's just tired and cranky from all the traveling we've done." Albel sneered at Fayt, but kept quiet. "But we did travel through this wood. It's taken us all day to get through, and we're both tired and we'd like directions to the nearest inn..."
"Oh, you won't have to stay at the inn."
"I'll have to inform the mayor," The man mumbled, walking towards the village, paying no attention to Fayt. "He'll have to know about this..."
"Wait!" Fayt yelled, but the man didn't seem to hear him as he continued to walk towards the gates.
"Stupid maggot doesn't know the meaning of manners..." Albel murmured.
Fayt decided to hold the retort that was dying to roll off his tongue. He settled for sighing and shaking his head. "Well, it looks like we'll have to find the inn ourselves."
"You needn't bother."
"Don't you remember what that wench told us? No one who goes into that forest comes out. The people of this hick town obviously must know about those woods, so once that maggot tells the other maggots about us, they're going to swarm to us like flies to a feast, inviting us into their little homes, asking a dozen foolish questions."
Albel pointed to the gates. "See those two coming towards us now? News apparently travels the fastest in hick towns like this."
Fayt sighed as he rubbed his head. "There's no use in complaining about it now. Let's just go and get it over with."
"It's truly amazing that the two of you came out of that woods alive," The mayor said for about the fifth time that night. Fayt sat across on the couch from the mayor of the town (His name never given. It always unsettled Fayt that people just called the leader of some villages 'mayor', when surely, they had to have a name). Albel declined the offer for a seat on the couch, preferring to lean against the wall, his arms crossed.
"And you managed to retain your senses as well," The mayor continued. "It's quite miracle indeed."
"Excuse me, but what do you mean by that?" Fayt asked. "I thought anyone who goes in there never comes out."
"Well, most of the time, that is true. We've told people of our village to never go in there, but on occasion, someone goes in, either out of curiosity or due to some foolish dare. Most of the time, they are never seen or heard from again. But sometimes, someone does walk out of the forest, but they aren't the same person."
"Can you elaborate on that, sir?"
"Well," The mayor leaned back in his chair, considering his words. "They're pretty much unresponsive to the people around them. We've had people try to talk to them, but they mumble things that no one understands or they seem to see things that only they can see."
'Maybe they're still stuck in the illusion of the woods,' Fayt pondered. "I see..."
"Are you all done boring us with your nonsense now, old man?" Albel asked. "I've had enough of this babble."
"Albel!" Fayt called, but Albel ignored him, walking up the stairs. Sighing, Fayt turned back to the Mayor. "I apologize for my friend's behavior. He's probably just tired, that's all."
"It's understandable, young man," The Mayor replied. "You two must've gone through a lot."
"We did... Um, sir? We saw a woman in there."
The mayor didn't seem the least bit surprised. "Ah, Mystia..."
"Well, that's what we refer to her. It's a complicated matter..."
Fayt was drawn in by curiosity. And the words that the woman called Mystia left him. "If you don't mind..."
The mayor shook his head. "Not at all. You're now involved and it's no secret to anyone in this village, so it would be illogical not to tell you.
"Most of what we know about Mystia are from this village's past leaders' notes and journals and the history of our village. Some of the information we have contradicts others, so it's hard to say what is fact and what is fiction. But I can tell you what information doesn't contradict what all the leaders have said.
"About four hundred years ago, what we call 'magic' was very commonplace in this village..."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but magic?"
The mayor looked a little startled. "Yes. We call forth elements in nature to assist us by inscribing runes on paper. We channel our minds through the runes. How can you not know about basic magic, young man?"
'That sounds a little like Symbology...' Not wanting to blow their cover, Fayt answered, "I knew about magic, sir, but from where we're from, it's called something different. So I was a little confused."
The mayor simply nodded and continued. "According to our books, Mystia, as a child, was very gifted in the magical arts. The more and more the child used magic, the more interested she became in it. Soon, it became an obsession.
"And then she did what was forbidden by the laws of this village. She somehow inscribed runes on her fleshy body.
"For the past century, it was forbidden to use magic in this fashion. The war that took place back thousands of years ago spoke of humans who had runes inscribed onto their flesh. The magic they could unleash was beyond comprehension at the time. Many people were killed not from hand to hand combat, but through huge balls of flame or bolts of lightening."
'Now that does sound like Symbology!' Fayt thought as he nodded his head. "So I guess the leader at the time didn't take it too well."
"Yes. Mystia was also a gifted child, and her obsession had grown out of hand. She practiced her magic openly and nearly everyday. Most of those things were helpful at first, like making it rain when there was not a cloud in the sky, closing a near death wound, or lifting heavy objects with a wave of her hand. Mystia had an obsession for magic, but it seemed like she put it to use to benefit everyone.
"However, when strange things started to happen, like accidental deaths or defect births or failing crop years, the blame was cast on Mystia.
"Of course, there is no evidence that Mystia caused these events to happen. But people feared her powers, even when she helped, and that fear gave root to anger.
"The elder at the time was under a lot of pressure from the other villagers. On one hand, he couldn't bring harm to someone who only offered their help. But on the other hand, he couldn't let things continue, lest a riot occur and someone truly got hurt.
"The elder tried to convince Mystia to stop practicing magic for the sake of the village and her own safety. She refused.
"The elder had no choice but to banish her from the village for good."
"I assume that didn’t settle well with her."
The mayor nodded. "Too true. The entire village was out there that day, watching Mystia leave. A roar went up as they watched the girl stride to the gates. The cheers died as she turned around. Her exact words were written in the elder's journal.
"'I've done nothing to harm you people. Day in and day out, I've used my magic to benefit you but not myself and it sickens me how selfish you all are. This is your first and only warning.' She then pointed to the woods that were near our village and said, 'If anyone sets foot into those woods, they will never be seen again.'
"She then turned and no one has seen her ever since. Most of the villagers laughed it off and ignored Mystia's warning. The village was now safe and while Mystia caused harm, in their minds, there was no way she could damage an entire forest.
"At that time, the village of Pasteron lay beyond the forest and we had to cut through there and they in turn as well for trade reasons.
"But then, people started disappearing whenever they entered the forest. This included people from Pasteron. Search parties were formed and those too, soon disappeared, never to be heard from again.
"The villagers soon took heed of Mystia's warning. Unfortunately, this ruined all trade with Pasteron, since it would take days to a week for the traders to come here and eventually, they stopped trading with us all together because of this time constraint. Our village suffered harshly and was reduced to how you see today.
"The elder warned the villagers not to enter the forest anymore. No one dared to question him, seeing the evidence before their eyes.
"However, in a few instances, people HAVE turned up on the edge of the forest, in a trance of some sort. They would mumble things under their breath and not be aware of anything around them. We would try to talk to the people who came out, as that gave us hope that perhaps it's possible for people to come out. But we couldn't reach them. They refused to eat or sleep, and soon afterwards, they died."
The mayor unclasped his hands as he looked towards Fayt. "But you, young man, and your friend upstairs are a different story. You managed to come out of those woods sane, you even met the woman who was banished many years ago and from your description of her, she hasn't aged a day."
'Was it because we weren't from this planet? Was it because both Albel and I know Symbology? Or is it because of me?' Fayt shook his head. "I'm really sorry, but I don't even know why we managed to come out of that forest."
"I see..." The mayor sighed, sitting back. "I don't suppose you can tell me anything?"
"I'm sorry, but anything I'd have to say would probably be of no use to you. Even I don't understand all that's happened."
"I understand." The mayor stood up. "I'm sorry for keeping you up so late with an old man's babble."
"No," Fayt answered with a smile. "I'm just sorry we couldn't be of any help to you."
The mayor simply nodded. "Well, I'm sure you're tired. Feel free to use the guestroom upstairs."
"So the old man finally let you go, hmm?"
Fayt was surprised that Albel was still up. "Well, some of what he said was useful. That woman in the forest most likely knew Symbology..."
"We didn't need that fool to tell us what we already knew."
"Yeah, but I also learned that the people here treat and view Symbology very differently than how you or I view and use it."
Fayt nodded, trying to hide his surprise that Albel was showing an interest. "Yeah. I guess for a while, they wrote the symbols out on paper and used Symbology that way. But the woman broke that tradition and actually used Symbology the way the people on Elicoor use it, carving those runes into her flesh. Apparently, that didn't settle well with the villagers, especially when strange phenomena starting occurring."
"Superstitious fools..." Albel snorted.
"Not that I don't disagree, but it's hardly surprising. Back in my history lessons, they used to burn women to death for being witches whenever something strange happened in town. And most of the time, it was a person's fear used as evidence. Because of the hysteria, many people believed them and sentenced innocents to die."
Fayt half expected for Albel to make a nasty remark about that, but instead, he said, "So I'm guessing that they did something to this woman and in revenge, she did something to those woods."
"Well, that's what I think. I don't know why she hasn't aged or what nature the spell is. I didn't even think Symbology could do such a thing over such a large mass.
"Also, I don't think the villagers know that they're seeing illusions. The mayor said that people come out but they aren't responsive to people around them, so it's like their mind is trapped in the illusion still, even though they're no longer in the woods."
"Right," Albel sneered as he turned towards the window. Fayt sighed as he sat down on one of the beds in the room.
"There are still some events that make no sense though. Why didn't we get trapped in the illusion?" Albel remained quiet. "And why did she appear before us? And how could she not have aged? And how could she cast something powerful enough to effect a large area?"
"There's no use in thinking about it," Albel said, not looking from the window. "It's really none of our business. Why should we be concerned about a village that means nothing to us? And what good will knowing the answers to those questions do you?"
"Aren't you in the least bit curious?" Fayt asked, pulling his other boot off. "I mean, don't you think, 'why me?' about it? Or wonder about what you saw..."
"Don't dwell on it."
"Why not? Don't you want to know..."
Albel finally turned his head in Fayt's direction, his silent glare clearly stating his answer. "I'm going to sleep. Try not to mumble in your sleep."
Fayt watched as Albel climbed into bed, turning away to face the wall. Fayt sighed as he put his sword under his bed and crawled under the covers. He looked over to Albel.
'I don't know what you saw there, Albel, but I have a feeling you already know why you saw what you did. As for me...
'Maybe in due time, I'll figure it out. No, I was able to come back to you, so I know I'll figure it out in due time.'
Closing his eyes, Fayt fell into a dreamless slumber.